Tuesday, 24 May 2016
More than 8,000 people have been moved from the Idomeni camp, and among them are hundreds of unaccompanied children. If the European Union countries, including Ireland, had fulfilled their obligations in the past year, most of those people would not be going into another camp but would be facing a better future. Sadly, the programme of the EU is about detention and deportation, when it should be about solidarity and service provision.
Last summer, EU member states promised to relocate 160,000 people from Greece and Italy.
Just over 6,200 of those 160,000 people have been relocated. The European Union's failure to address the refugee problem in a positive way beggars belief. There is a statistic from the International Organization for Migration indicating that ten people per day have died trying to cross the Mediterranean since 2014. That means for every 23 people relocated in Europe, ten are dying at sea. That does not even include those who died on the mainland, suffocating in the back of trucks or getting crushed to death trying to get a lift on or under a truck in Calais or Dunkirk.
It beggars belief how human beings can treat other human beings. These people did not choose to be refugees and they did not want to leave their homes, which were bombed. Much of this started with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003; we facilitated that by allowing the Americans to use Shannon Airport. We facilitated it at EU level by supporting the policy of the Americans, French and British military endeavours. We are not innocent. How much of an objection did we raise to the EU deal with Greece and Turkey? It was probably very small. That deal is a nonsense. Kurds are being forced back to Turkey from Greece and Turks will shoot them on site. Turkey is not a safe place for refugees and we should challenge that deal.
Sadly, we need to seriously rethink our lack of a neutral stance in how the world operates. We have no problem shaking hands with presidents, kings and other leaders who kill thousands of people but who have no problem smiling for the cameras. We have no problem doing business with such people. We can pretend that we care about refugees but we have helped to bomb them out of their homes. Is it possible we can do a little more? Could we show that we really care about them? A couple of weeks ago I pleaded with the Minister to send a team to Calais and Dunkirk to assess unaccompanied minors. Deputy Clare Daly and I met representatives of the Red Cross last week and it is assessing 950 homes of people who have offered to take in refugees. It is a no-brainer and it would be a positive step to take. We might say we will only take people outside Europe or Syria but it does not matter who they are. They could be Syrians, Kurds, Iraqis, Sudanese or Yemeni. We need to help these people. The Irish have gone all over the planet and we got help everywhere but now we do not want to help these people. Europe may want to pretend everything is going to be okay and the problem will go away, but it will not go away. More refugees will come this year than came last year, and more people are drowning in the Mediterranean in 2016 than did in 2015.
There are many complications involved in bringing people to this country and I am not saying this is black and white. We are not making a good effort but we could. That would make such a difference. It would bring a bit of credibility to us as a nation if we played a much stronger role. Ireland and European countries in general are not playing a strong role right now.
I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue this evening. I am here on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, who cannot be here tonight. This area overlaps with the responsibilities I have with respect to issues of refugees and immigration.
The Deputy is correct in that Europe is facing its greatest migration and refugee crisis since the Second World War. There is no doubt about it. Conflicts and instability, including in some states in Africa and the Middle East, have led to more than 60 million displaced persons globally. Against the backdrop of this humanitarian crisis, record numbers have sought to reach the European Union, often, as the Deputy noted, undertaking desperate and perilous journeys across the Mediterranean and Aegean seas at the mercy of ruthless and exploitative people smugglers. The European Union has collectively taken concrete steps to address the crisis and measures have been adopted in support of Italy and Greece, which jointly received more than 1 million migrants and asylum seekers last year alone.
On 10 September 2015, recognising that we do not face the same migratory pressures as many other member states, the Government voluntarily agreed to establish the Irish refugee protection programme and to accept up to 4,000 persons in total under the European Union's resettlement and relocation programmes. Under this programme, Ireland is prepared, willing and ready to receive people. The mechanism by which the balance of the 4,000 people is to be admitted will be determined based on future developments at EU level. It is expected these numbers will be augmented further by family reunifications.
The figure of 4,000 people includes approximately 2,600 asylum seekers to be admitted from Italy and Greece under the EU relocation programme and 520 refugees, which the Government has committed to taking in by the end of 2016 under Ireland's refugee resettlement programme led by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR. Ireland is well advanced in fulfilling our commitments on resettlement, with 263 refugees admitted to date from Lebanon and the balance expected to arrive by the end of September, also from Lebanon.
The pace of the relocation programme across the European Union has been slower than we would have wished. If greater numbers are made available by the Greek authorities, we will be in a position to process greater numbers in line with our commitments. The Tánaiste and her Department have already provided four experts to support the implementation of the programme, with two in Italy and two in Greece. They are open to providing further assistance upon request. We have also nominated liaison officers to both Italy and Greece to support our identification of relocation candidates.
A Syrian family of ten has been relocated from Greece to Ireland and granted protection. Very shortly, another group of 31 Syrians will arrive in the State. A further 40 people are provisionally scheduled to arrive the following month, with a regular intake of between 40 and 60 persons arriving every eight weeks by agreement with the Greek authorities. Ireland and other member states are working with the Italian authorities to try to overcome the impasse regarding proper security clearance procedures in line with the commitments already endorsed by this House.
To break the dangerous business model of people smugglers and remove the incentive to seek irregular routes into the EU, the EU-Turkey statement agreed by the Heads of State or Government on 18 March outlined a number of clear action points for implementation. To support the implementation of this agreement, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality has nominated six international case work experts to the European Asylum Support Office to assist the Greek asylum service in the implementation of the admissibility procedure and performance of vulnerability checks. In addition, Ireland has also offered the services of two members of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal to support the establishment of appeals committees.
The Deputy also referred to the closing of the refugee camp in Greece. It is my understanding that no official camp exists in Idomeni. Exploitative people smugglers have encouraged desperate asylum seekers to congregate on the Greek border with Macedonia by spreading misinformation to suggest the border crossing will soon re-open and allow them continue their journey to destination countries, including Germany and Sweden. The Deputy pointed out that the conditions where many vulnerable women and children have gathered are unsanitary and unsafe. I understand from Greek authorities that their intention is to move asylum seekers to reception centres, where their needs, including food and medical care, may be adequately met.
The crisis is likely to stay high on the agenda for the foreseeable future, unfortunately. Our naval vessel, the LE Roisín, is also assisting the Italian navy in the operation of humanitarian rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea. The Deputy knows that other ships have also operated in the area. In addition to our existing commitments to provide protection to asylum seekers and refugees who reach our shores, Ireland is also working with EU partners to develop legal pathways for migration into Europe and to engage constructively with countries of origin and transit. I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter.