WE ARE in the middle of the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, with 60m people forced to flee their homelands because of violence and conflict, as well as natural disasters and grinding, relentless poverty.
Yet, as an analysis by Oxfam shows, it is the poor countries that are shouldering the greatest burden in caring for refugees while the richest nations all but ignore their plight.
Oxfam’s analysis shows that collectively the United Kingdom, United States, China, Japan, Germany, and France hosted 2.1m refugees and asylum seekers last year — just 8.88% of the world total.
Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, South Africa as well as the Palestinian territories host more than 50% of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers but account for less than 2% of the world’s economy.
As Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland chief executive, put it: “The generosity of poor countries welcoming people fleeing for their lives stands in stark contrast to wealthy countries turning their backs on the desperation and suffering of vulnerable people.”
Yet the reality must surely be more complex than that.
It is not necessarily generosity that compels the citizens of poor countries to take in more than their fare share of refugees. Immediate proximity and the absence of border controls also has a lot to do with it.
Take Greece, for instance. It has a population of 11m and since 2015 it has seen more than a total of 1m refugees arrive on its shores. The controversial EU-Turkey agreement was meant to stop people crossing the Aegean Sea and has alleviated the burden on Greece. However, 57,000 people remain stranded there while Italy has now become the new frontline of the refugee crisis in Europe, with thousands crossing the Mediterranean from Libya every day.
Neither is it lack of compassion that results in richer nations doing less than they should.
Witness the efforts of the Irish naval service which to-date has rescued almost 10,000 refugees during operations in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with that, under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, the Government has committed to taking 4,000 refugees.
Yet Oxfam is correct to point out that, despite this commitement, the process has been agonisingly slow, with less than 10% of that figure actually arriving here.
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald last week blamed Greek and Italian lethargy and poor administration for the slow progress in relocating refugees in those countries to Ireland. She also promised that a mission would be sent to Lebanon in the autumn to select an additional 260 refugees to be admitted in Spring 2017.
Considering the scale of the problem, that response is utterly inadequate and reflects poorly on us all.
There is little doubt that rich countries — Ireland included — could be more proactive in alleviating such a monumental humanitarian crisis.
Charity begins at home — but it doesn’t have to end there.
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