Election 2016: Debate on immigration unavoidable

Once upon a time, a guest who had overstayed their welcome could often be seen off by the suggestion that they join the family for the nightly rosary. Forgotten appointments were remembered and the visitor bolted into the shadows barely breaking stride to wish their hosts a good night’s sleep.

A version of that dodge can be used to get rid of unwelcome political canvassers too. It is universally applicable. Ask canvassers about the Eight Amendment — abortion — or how we might respond to Europe’s growing refugee/immigrant crisis and don’t be surprised if the canvassers move on quickly to try to charm less challenging voters.

One of those issues — the huge challenge represented by millions of destitute people continually, and for the foreseeable future, arriving in Europe — was the focus of yesterday’s meeting of world leaders in London, but it is unlikely to feature prominently in discussions about who might be elected to the 32nd Dáil, or how they might deal with the issue if elected. But it should be, because it is one of the defining issues of our time, one that may be utterly destructive unless it is managed humanely and with generosity and grace.

The influx is reshaping Europe, and it seems worse than foolish not to work towards making inevitable change a successful, mutually beneficial integration. Especially as the alternative is so unattractive. In a nutshell, not only do we have to resolve our own housing crisis, but we have to go far beyond that to accommodate far more than the 4,000 refugees we have agreed to take in over the next number of years.

We need to establish services like Lebanon’s double shift system in a small number of schools — Syrian children are educated every afternoon and evening in the classrooms Lebanese children use in the morning — to ensure successful integration if we are to avoid the tinderbox radicalisation and isolation so obvious in France’s banlieues.

We cannot look away and hope that the crisis will not reach our shores. The human misery involved is on such a scale that we cannot pretend we do not have a moral obligation to do more. The exodus through the eastern Mediterranean and western Balkans includes entire families who have lost hope that they have a future in their place of birth. For them, a dangerous trek to Europe is preferable to trying to scratch out an existence in the camps, hovels and shacks in Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan. In many refugee communities, child marriage rates soar as parents decide girls are safer married than on the streets. Europol estimates 10,000 children have disappeared, victims of this century’s most common form of slavery: trafficking. Earlier this week, the King of Jordan mourned that his country was at a “boiling point” — unable to offer refugees jobs, or even schooling for their children. Care International reported that, in desperation, up to half of the million refugees who have fled from Syria to Jordan were considering a second exodus — to Europe.

Good politicians show leadership in the face of a crisis. The other kind cowers in front of great events, hoping the pressing difficulties will pass them by. Over the next few weeks, we will see which kind we are being asked to vote for.

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