Thursday, 28 September 2017
Report of Joint Committee on Justice and Equality on Immigration, Asylum and the Refugee Crisis: Motion
I thank the Minister of State for his contribution. I am very critical of how Ireland has dealt with refugees who are not in this country as well as those who have come to this country. I mean nothing personal as the Minister of State has shown a strong interest in this matter. However, the role of this Government and its predecessor leaves much to be desired.
Ireland reached an agreement to bring 4,000 refugees to this country. As matters stand, the refugee crisis in Europe and worldwide is probably here to stay. Those who are not fleeing climate change, conflict, torture, starvation and death today will surely flee for these reasons in the years ahead. This will be the case for as long as countries such as Ireland do next to nothing to tackle climate change at home and Ireland continues to support international warfare and destruction by allowing the US military to use Shannon Airport as a forward military base on our soil and pursues trade links with some of the most brutal, oppressive and destabilising forces in the world.
The Government speaks of Ireland's role in the resettlement and relocation programmes as if we were achieving great things for humankind. The agreement to give refuge to 4,000 people is not nearly adequate, yet we struggle even to achieve this target. Addressing the slow movement on some of our commitments, the Minister of State indicated that serious difficulties persist in the case of Italy as the Italian authorities have taken the position that they will not allow An Garda Síochána to carry out security assessments of applicants for relocation on Italian soil. That we have not been able to find a solution to this problem since the start of the programme is difficult to fathom. Other countries appear to have been able to relocate 8,500 refugees from Italy. Furthermore, the latest European Commission report on relocation and resettlement indicated that bilateral agreements can be arranged between other member states and Italy to have security checks in Italy. I do not know if such an agreement has been reached between Italy and Ireland.
The European Council on Refugees and Exiles, ECRE, recently commented that while the political and legal obstructionism of certain member states was well documented, other opaque and more subtle resistance had taken place, ranging from prohibitive preferences expressed by some member states to delays in pledging relocation places and in the processing and provision of offers by Italy and Greece. ECRE also stated that the use of unlawful refusal grounds and disproportionate security checks had contributed to the disappointing results so far. Given the severe lack of clarity and transparency from the Government about what is happening on the ground in Italy, one begins to wonder if Ireland is guilty of any of these practices.
The Minister of State indicated earlier this month that the numbers eligible for relocation from Italy and Greece are much lower than envisaged under the two Council decisions of September 2015. I am not sure this statement is fully accurate. As the European Council on Refugees and Exiles and others have documented, the pool of eligible applicants has been artificially reduced by the decision automatically to exclude persons who arrived in Greece after the start of the application of the EU-Turkey statement on 20 March 2016, regardless of the nationality of the persons in question. Statistics from the UN Human Rights Commission show that between April 2016 and July 2017, more than 11,000 Syrian and Iraqi asylum seekers arrived in Greece and these persons were eligible for relocation until the end of 2016. The decision to use 20 March 2016 as a cut-off date for relocation from Greece has no legal basis and has deprived these persons of their right to relocation. Many of them have instead been subjected to appalling reception conditions on one of the Greek islands where they remain in limbo.
That Ireland has not voiced any opposition to the EU-Turkey deal is more than regrettable. The Minister went as far as to praise Turkey's positive contribution in dealing with the refugee crisis. The Minister and Minister of State would do well to listen to refugee law scholars such as Dr. Cathryn Costello and Dr. Maria Hennessy who, with many others, have clearly laid out how Ireland and the European Union are riding roughshod over the principles of human rights law in the manner in which we have been dealing with this crisis from the beginning. The EU has very clear legal commitments to refugees, not only in international law but also in internal EU legislation. Sadly, it does not always keep these commitments.
The reference in the EU-Turkey deal to returning migrants who are not in need of international protection suggests such persons will have their protection claims examined and that decisions will be made concerning their return. The terms of the deal are unclear as to whether returns will be of people with protection needs. Moreover, the question as to whether Turkey is a safe place in a legal sense is sidetracked and, as we know only too well, Turkey is not a safe third country.
I do not have time to address all the issues. EU leaders hailed the EU-Turkey deal as a success despite the human cost of the agreement and its non-compliance with international refugee law. Now the deal is being used as a model for engagement with other countries in the European partnership framework with third countries, in other words, poor countries are bring bribed to prevent people from leaving. This is a disastrous development. The EU is outsourcing the control of migration to countries such as Libya and Niger to ensure migrants are no longer able to leave the northern shores of the African continent. Most concerning is that some countries have bolstered their domestic security spending at the expense of basic social services such as health and education.
There have been increasing reports of incidents between Libyan coast guard vessels and humanitarian rescue ships operating off the coast of north Africa. Financed, trained and equipped by Italy and the European Union, the Libyan coast guard is intercepting an increasing number of migrant boats and generally behaving like a pirate. Under Operation Sofia, the Naval Service is now involved in training Libyan coast guards and, as such, we are literally training pirates.
To address briefly our problems at home, Deputy Clare Daly and I attended a forum this week at which we listened to the voices of people who are in direct provision or have just recently left it. It was amazing and, I assure the Minister of State, heart-rending to listen to their stories and first-hand experiences. Five individuals made presentations on different aspects of life in direct provision, namely, the right to work; life in direct provision and the external impact; life in direct provision and the internal impact; education; and mental health and well-being. The right to work and the refusal of the State to allow people in direct provision to work extended across all five topics. Other countries have managed to facilitate this right.
Not allowing the people in question the right to work defies rational thinking.
I will itemise a few of their points. Not having the right to work means that they lose work skills and develop a dependency on social welfare payments; they lose the opportunity to develop other skills; it kills opportunity in general; it forces women into prostitution and pregnancy; and it makes it impossible to integrate. Some of them have had educational opportunities, while others have not, but they say the lack of those opportunities leads to a lack of discipline and breeds laziness, given that there is no reason to wake up in the morning. It creates isolation, concern about the future, hopelessness and depression. They also talked about the internal problems in direct provision centres, for example, with management and staff, a lack of trust, imposition of regulations, a loss of freedom, having to share rooms with older people, with food quality and a lack of cooking facilities. They have a sense that they are not in control of their lives which instead are controlled by others. They discussed external problems, including transport issues; hostels being isolated; difficulties in going anywhere; a lack of identification; difficulties in integrating and socialising; sexual harassment; feeling cheap, afraid and unsafe; a lack of access to information and support; not knowing whom to approach for help; mental health and well-being; having no say in their living conditions; being told what to do and when to do it; having their movements monitored; difficulties in getting help; as well as having no jobs, hobbies, schools or families.
We all know that this is not good enough. We are failing these individuals. When we think of the millions of people who left this island to better themselves and get away from poverty and other problems, how, in God's name, can we treat them like this?