Rights groups shut out of refugee crisis plans

Aid agencies and rights groups have accused the Government of shutting them out of efforts to tackle the refugee crisis.

They say they have had to put offers of money, accommodation, and expertise on hold because they are not being included in whatever official preparations are belatedly being made.

Sixteen organisations have formed a coalition to push for a coherent, united response from state agencies and civil society at a critical juncture when they say the Government is wasting time talking only to itself.

A request they made to the Taoiseach and justice minister eight weeks ago seeking a meeting to co-ordinate plans has not been granted, they claimed.

Sue Conlan of the Irish Refugee Council said: “We do not have a clue what is happening because it is only interdepartmental. It is government talking to government. They are not talking to others who might be able to assist.”

The Cabinet will hold its first full meeting on the issue today, at which it will discuss a fast-track system of processing refugees from makeshift camps around Europe who do not yet have refugee status so they do not spend years going through the asylum system.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will present a list of needs to be addressed, including accommodation, while the co-ordination of local authorities and NGOs, including the Irish Red Cross, will also be raised.

No firm plans will be laid out until after EU justice ministers, meeting on Monday, agree details of how the European Commission wants refugees to be shared out among member states.

It remains unclear how many people Ireland will accept, with the figure of 1,800 from the EU still appearing the most likely, in addition to the 520 already processed refugees agreed with the UN.

It is also unclear whether Ireland will answer commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s call to allow new arrivals to work while their applications for refugee status are processed.

Mr Juncker yesterday called on member states to agree to compulsory quotas for the redistribution of 160,000 refugees and asylum seekers already in Europe.

In a strongly worded address, he made several pointed comments about Europe’s own history of migration. “Have we forgotten that there is a reason why the number of O’Neills and Murphys in the United States exceeds by far the number who live in Ireland?” he said.

European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy dismissed suggestions the comments were a direct criticism of Ireland’s response to the crisis. “At all stages we have played our role and will continue to do so,” he said.

Mary Robinson, former Irish president who also served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Europe’s reaction to the refugees has been “appalling”. “They have not been treated with human dignity,” she said.

Mrs Robinson stressed that refugees had rights under international law. “All countries are bound to address this,” she said.

That point was also made by the NGO coalition. ActionAid chief executive Siobhan McGee said: “We’re talking about people’s rights. It’s not a charitable endeavour. It’s not an option.

“This shouldn’t be up for discussion in that sense. The questions should be around how we do this.”

Donations and offers of help continued to flood in to charities yesterday as the public response to the crisis continued to outpace that of the Government.

Jim Clarken of Oxfam Ireland said the same sense of urgency needs to be injected into an official action plan. “People are drowning today, people are dying today, things need to happen today. They needed to happen months ago. We need to see that level of urgency right from the top of Government all the way through. We can afford it, we can do it, the people want it. What are we waiting for?” he said.

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