AS European justice ministers meet in Brussels today to sign off on the number of refugees each country will take, the sheer scale of coping with the enormity of this appalling crisis is finally dawning on even the most welcoming of nations. That became clear over the weekend when a huge influx of migrants into southern Germany threatened to swamp the city of Munich.
In stark contrast with the open-door policy adopted up to now by the Germans, the city authorities issued a warning following the arrival there of 13,000 refugees on Saturday, over three times more in a single day than what Ireland will take in two years, bluntly telling the world they had reached the “upper limit of our capacity”. This emergency has triggered frantic efforts to accommodate the new arrivals.
If anything, it will reinforce an anti-refugee stance verging on racism starkly evident in countries like Hungary, rapidly completing preparations to seal its frontier with a razor wire barrier. It also illustrates the cultural and political rifts within the EU, despite a strong moral imperative on the member states to do the right thing by providing a safe home for people fleeing war-torn countries. The contradictions inherent in Europe were plain to see over the weekend as hundreds of people took to the streets of Dublin in solidarity with the refugees while their counterparts in Poland were demonstrating against the idea of giving them a refuge.
The Munich scenario should also bring home to more welcoming nations such as Ireland, and to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald in particular, the importance of planning ahead so as to ensure this country has the necessary capacity to take in the 4,000 refugees already agreed by the Coalition.
There is no gain saying that in the past, Ireland’s record of dealing with foreigners has been anything but impressive. That much can be seen in the operation of the so-called ‘direct provision’ introduced by a Fianna Fáil government and perpetuated by the present regime. Notwithstanding the admission by junior Justice Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin that it has been something of a disaster, effectively preventing thousands of asylum seekers from accessing Irish society in any meaningful way, the promised new model to replace it has yet to be unveiled. The sooner it is produced, the better.
What is really needed is a clear plan that will spell out in unequivocal terms how the incoming refugees will be acclimatised to life in Ireland. This should not be confined to merely teaching them English, but should also deal with such vital issues as the provision of decent housing, and preparing them to take on worthwhile jobs. Unfortunately, these are two areas where refugees will, rightly or wrongly, be perceived as competing with Irish people who are either facing eviction or languishing in the dole queue.
Among key questions yet to be answered by government are: What happens when the refugees arrive? Where will they stay? How will they be housed? Where will they go to school? What financial support will they have? Where will they work? Where will they worship? Who will look after them and ultimately be responsible for them?
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