Dáil debates

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Topical Issue Debate

Refugee Numbers

3:00 pm

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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Hundreds of thousands are trying to get across the Mediterranean, not because they are chasing wonderful welfare benefits in Europe, but because their lives have been destroyed in the countries from which they have come. Sadly we do not seem to have a problem with the US using Shannon Airport as a military base to cause severe destruction in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. We have refused to call Israel to account in Palestine. Of the refugees in the world today 5 million are Palestinian, 4 million are Syrian, 2.9 million are Afghans and 1.8 million are Iraqis.

There are serious issues at stake. Obviously those who have the gold make the rules. Even though the riches might be unequally divided, Europe and the US are rich in no small part because other places are poor. The developed world has much to answer for that in that regard.

I welcome Ireland's decision to take in approximately 300 refugees; it is a small start. Given that they have been sanctioned by the UN as worthy of protection, will they go into direct provision or will be they given proper facilities to participate in Irish society and look for work?

I know there is a second stage to this and there is an effort to redistribute many of the refugees who have already arrived in Europe, mainly in Italy and Greece at the moment. Will the Government take a positive approach to this and seek to take in some in some of these people when they come to be redistributed in a few weeks' time?

An EU Foreign Ministers' meeting on Monday will consider a proposal to launch some military missions on Libya to attack the boats that could carry potential migrants across the sea. When our Minister goes there on Monday I urge him to advocate that this would be sheer lunacy. Most of these people are fishermen. The boats are involved in fishing. They get bought up overnight to carry migrants the next day at a high price. The idea of bombing them is crazy. We should never have agreed to the bombing of Libya in the first place. NATO has destroyed the place. The idea of another military adventure into Libya makes no sense. I advocate that the Government refuse to sign up to such an idea.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, United Left)
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I welcome that we are taking 300 refugees; I am sorry it is not more. I hope the Minister and the Government will proactively consider and argue that we should take more when the EU moves to deal with these tens of thousands of people who are incarcerated in holding centres, particularly in Greece and Italy.

The real issue is what condition those people will be in when they come to Ireland.

Are we going to treat them as citizens with respect and dignity or will they be thrown into direct provision centres with others who have desperately sought asylum here?

We have looked at this debate the wrong way around because it is not about charity or our being nice. Refugees do not want sympathy or tears; they want us to stop facilitating the reasons that made them refugees in the first place. Unless we address these issues, we will be faced with this crisis for years to come.

A report published at the end of April by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reveals that the . By funding privatisations, land grabs and dams, by backing companies and governments accused of rape, murder and torture, and by putting $50 billion into projects graded highest risk for irreversible and unprecedented social impacts, the World Bank has massively contributed to the flow of impoverished people across the globe. If we are serious about stopping and assisting people, the first thing we could do is start dealing with the World Bank, IMF and other research institutions. The second thing we could do is stop being complicit and backing NATO and US imperialists in bombing the Middle East, particularly Libya and Syria. This has generated the beginnings of Isis. A key reason a flood of refugees and immigrants are desperately seeking a future in Europe is that the United States and NATO have destroyed their countries, families and livelihoods. It is not about charity or about our being nice; it is about us making amends in some way for activities in which we are complicit by allowing Shannon Airport to be used.

3:10 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputies for raising today Ireland's decision to resettle refugees as part of the EU resettlement programme. I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, who regrets she is unable to be present for the debate due to previous official commitments. I will, of course, bring the views of the Deputies to her attention and that of the other relevant Ministers before the meeting next week. I will ensure the transcript of the debate is read.

Ireland has participated in an UN-led resettlement programme since 2000. This programme is co-ordinated by the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration in the Department of Justice and Equality. Prior to Ireland's participation in this UN programme, Ireland had offered resettlement to groups of refugees, including Hungarians, Chileans, Vietnamese, Bosnians and Kosovars, since the 1950s.

Since the beginning of the UNHCR-led resettlement programme in 2000, 1,198 vulnerable persons from 27 different countries of origin have been resettled here. In general, the refugees resettled in Ireland come from Africa or Asia. The largest communities are from countries such as Burma, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Syria. Ireland is working closely with the UNHCR to respond to the plight of the most vulnerable persons displaced by these conflicts and has played its part in the international community resettlement effort and will continue to do so in the context of the EU response to the Mediterranean refugee crisis.

The total number of persons displaced by the Syrian conflict admitted to Ireland under the resettlement programme from 2013 to date is 138. This includes 31 Afghans and four Iraqi Palestinians admitted from Damascus in 2013, 90 Syrian refugees admitted from Jordan and Lebanon in 2014 and 13 Syrian refugees who arrived from Jordan in April 2015. Prior to yesterday's announcement, the Minister had already committed to resettling 100 refugees in 2015 and 120 refugees in 2016. The focus was on refugees caught up in the conflict in the Middle East, notably Iraq and Syria, including a number of refugees who have urgent medical needs.

The EU agenda on migration, published yesterday, includes specific proposals on the resettlement of migrants in Europe under which Ireland was expected to receive 272 people by the end of 2016. Rather than waiting until the Commission's proposals are discussed formally by home affairs Ministers in June, the Minister announced yesterday that the Government has agreed in principle to resettle an additional 300 vulnerable people as our contribution to this European initiative. In addition, Ireland has operated a Syrian humanitarian application programme under which 114 people arrived in Ireland this year to join family already here.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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It is good that Ireland is taking in some people. It has been one of the better countries at providing aid in some crises in which people are suffering badly. Rather than just examining the symptoms and trying to help in whatever way we can, it is surely time that we took on board the serious causes of the serious crises around the globe. As I stated before, the migrants did not just appear out of thin air.

Militarisation of much of the Middle East and other parts of the world has a lot to do with the efforts of so many hundreds of thousands of migrants to get across the Mediterranean. We need to take this on board. I appeal to the Government to think again about the fact that we allow arms and munitions to come through Shannon Airport. This helps to cause so much of the misery. War is responsible for a considerable proportion of the displacement. Ireland could play a very positive role by standing up and saying no country, including the United States, should be allowed to bring any arms and munitions or troops through Ireland to any war front because war does not create peace, it creates destruction. I appeal to the Government to take a fresh look at how we are allowing Shannon Airport to be used.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, United Left)
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We must stand back and consider the horrendous circumstances that force individuals and families to make the treacherous journey to try to seek a better life in Europe. It does not bear thinking about. People give up their life savings and essentially entrust their children to pirates who put them on a ship that they know has a good chance of not making it to the other side. It is beyond belief.

In that context, I am very glad the Government is resettling people but I am sorry more people are not being resettled. I hope more from the next batch will be resettled. However, the key issue here is not about resettling refugees. It should be about preventing them from being turned into refugees in the first place. People are being driven from their own countries where their families are and in which they speak their own language. They are left with no future where they should be living, surrounded by the people and life circumstances that they know best. Does the Minister of State believe they really want to come here? Their migration is because of economic pillaging or military devastation. I echo the point that we are complicit in this by allowing Shannon Airport to be part of this process. There is no doubt in my mind that the US military that have transited through Shannon Airport and engaged in activities such as those in Syria and Libya are partly the reason so many people are now ending up in this devastating situation.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputies for raising the resettlement programme and many other issues, including that of Shannon Airport. The Deputies have debated Shannon here on numerous occasions with various Ministers, most recently with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charlie Flanagan. I will ask these Ministers to review today's discussion to feed into the debate.

The Deputies are correct that the Irish Government does have a role in prevention. Ireland is involved in a number of initiatives at European level to try to prevent the displacement of people. It is not just about helping out when circumstances reach crisis point but about arriving at long-term solutions. We are involved in discussions on this. There are many initiatives in this regard throughout Europe.

The commitment to resettle an additional 300 vulnerable people, announced yesterday, is part of the wider Government contribution to the crisis in the Mediterranean. It includes sending a naval vessel to the region to engage in search and rescue. Violence, conflict and instability have a horrendous impact on civilian populations. As the Deputies stated, families are faced with repeated displacement due to conflict and have very limited access to basic services. Ireland will continue to assist people affected by conflict and persecution. This year, it will provide nearly €80 million in funding to support communities affected by humanitarian crises, including in Syria, Yemen, northern Nigeria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and other conflict-affected areas. The EU Commission proposals published yesterday are comprehensive and cover a number of issues that require detailed answers before the European Council meeting in June.

The Minister for Justice and Equality has previously expressed her horror and outrage at the tragic loss of life in the Mediterranean Sea. She has consistently said that the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean is an EU issue that requires a co-ordinated EU response and that Ireland will play its part in that. This is what the Deputies are calling for.

The Dáil adjourned at at 3.20 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 19 May 2015.