State visit to Australia: Refugees’ plight proves familiar

In a powerful speech in the city of Perth, Australia, President Michael D Higgins has put into historical perspective the current refugee crisis, comparing the plight of those fleeing war with the millions of people who left Ireland during the Famine.

He did so as he unveiled a Famine memorial in Perth as part of his 24-day visit to Australia and New Zealand.

“Is the plight of those risking everything to cross continents and seas in search of refuge or a better life so different from the choices that faced our own people,” he asked, rhetorically.

Two years ago, Mr Higgins described the EU’s response to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean as “grossly inadequate” and “shameful”. Now he is bringing their plight to a bigger audience on the other side of the world, speaking movingly of “almost a billion people living in conditions of extreme but avoidable hunger.”

More than 170 years of history distances us from the plight of our forbears, giving us no opportunity to help them. They are long gone, either having starved to death on a roadside in Ireland or surviving and going on to live a better life in Australia and elsewhere.

However, only geography and the want of caring separates us from the horrors being endured by modern refugees who make up the largest number of displaced people on the planet since the Second World War.


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