Another sobering reality was the discovery of nine Kurdish refugees in a refrigerated container offloaded from a ferry in Rosslare last Saturday. Gardaí tracked the container to New Ross and may have averted a disaster. The message is that even though we are at the very end of the Europe’s exodus routes we will have to put, sooner or later, a realistic response to the crisis in place. As that crisis escalates it is hard to describe Irish proposals to home a few thousand migrants over several years as adequate. Despite our shameful housing crisis and well-founded fears around assimilation more ambitious targets would better reflect the ambitions for a more caring society articulated at the ballot boxes last week.
As those unfortunate refugees were discovered German chancellor Anglea Merkel was preparing for an hour-long television grilling during which she steadfastly defended her open-door policy. Dr Merkel, whose 10 years at the head of German politics comes to an end this year, admitted that the stakes had never been higher for Europe or for her party. Germany accepted more than a million asylum seekers last year and it is expected that another million will reach that country this year. She stressed how very difficult it is to find common ground “because many in the EU have yet to realise just what the continent faces: a new age of globalised flight where Islamic State violence and a Syrian civil war can wash millions of people from our TV screens onto our doorsteps”.
Her position was supported by Peter Sutherland, the UN Special Representative for International Migration who warned that European countries should be doing much more. He cautioned that member states who undermine agreements made by the European Council on offering sanctuary to refugees “are the ones who are ultimately causing the destruction of much of what the European Union stands for”.
As Dr Merkel and Mr Sutherland argued for the humanitarian acceptance of today’s reality; police on the Greece-Macedonia border fired tear gas to repel refugees. The clash took place near Idomeni where a rough camp has become home for about 7,000 people. That figure is expected to grow. At the same time French authorities were dismantling the sprawling refugee camp in Calais known as the Jungle which is a home of sorts for around 3,500 people. Alternative, and far better looking though far from perfect, accommodation has been provided.
That the refugee crisis, and the changing climate contributing to it, were hardly mentioned during the election campaign points to an uncomfortable truth. We are happy to enjoy the great benefits the world can offer but when crisis demands an expensive and difficult response we are happy, and foolish enough, to look the other way.