Pricking Europe’s conscience - Refugee crisis

THE ongoing tragedy of a shocking refugee exodus of biblical proportions from war-torn countries, graphically illustrated by the heartrending front page picture of a drowned three-year-old boy on a Turkish beach, finally appears to be pricking Europe’s sleeping conscience.

Influenced in no small way by this symbol of the horrors of war and failure of governments to respond in a meaningful way to the plight of the thousands drowned in the Med, where members of the Irish navy are doing valiant work to combat evil traffickers, and thousands more are struggling to find a new life in the West, the latest estimate is that EU countries should prepare to take 100,000 refugees. There are welcome signs that the emphasis is shifting perceptibly from a blunt proposal to set a quota for each EU country and leave it at that towards a more enlightened approach by countries to take in more than the bare minimum.

While some people hold to the view that charity begins at home, influential members of the Catholic hierarchy believe refugees would be welcomed in many parishes. Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin believes this country should act now rather than wait for quotas to be fixed. He found people were so moved by the picture of the dead children, they favour Ireland taking more than the agreed quota.

Significantly, he called on Government to draw up an action plan rather than await the outcome of discussions. That makes much sense in a country beset by housing problems. The archbishop also touched on a problem which would probably discourage new refugees from seeking a home in this country — the shocking plight of those already living here. Though ‘living’ is hardly the right word considering the inhumane conditions in which they are incarcerated.

Singing loudly from the same hymn sheet yesterday, junior minister for justice Aodhán Ó Ríordáin reiterated his view that Ireland’s refugee policy is not fit for purpose. Unusually, at least for a government minister, he believes the Irish people were ahead of the politicians on this issue. Few would dispute his view that Ireland’s response to this refugee crisis must be compassionate, appropriate and generous. Stressing that the number of refugees Ireland had committed to was not enough, he also thinks it would be reasonable to expect EU financial support if Ireland accepted more refugees.

Adding his voice to the growing call for more refugees to be accepted by Ireland, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin underlined the need for a longer-term solution. Hitting the nail squarely on the head, he described the refugee crisis as “not simply a European issue... it’s a world issue” and argues that following a European discussion, the issue must be addressed on a broader level by the UN.

He was speaking to the converted judging by the case made by Peter Sutherland, the UN spokesman on international migration, who also believes Ireland should take in greater numbers of refugees. Asking the Irish people whether they thought a quota was sufficient to deal with this crisis, he said they should maximise their potential to resolve it.


Frits Potgieter is General Manager with Muckross Park Hotel and Spa.You've Been Served: Frits Potgieter, Muckross Park Hotel and Spa

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