Wednesday, 2 November 2016
Calais Migrant Camp: Statements
With the approval of the House, it is my intention to share my time with my colleagues, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone.
The situation in Calais has become a matter of great and understandable concern. I know that many members of the public and many Deputies are genuinely motivated by a wish to try to reach out and provide assistance. It is a sad reality that today across the globe there are some 60 million migrants and refugees. Many are in even more distressing circumstances than the circumstances of those witnessed in Calais in recent days. My role as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is to act on behalf of the people to provide as much humanitarian and development assistance as possible to respond to those in need. I will update the House on my efforts in that regard.
I will set out briefly the current state of affairs on Calais in what has been a quickly evolving situation. On a recent visit to Calais the French President, Mr. Hollande, announced the closure of the camp and the resettlement of those living there. In the days following that decision, the adult inhabitants of the camp were relocated to centres across France. As we speak the French authorities are relocating over 1,500 unaccompanied minors to centres around France.
All migrants in Calais, including unaccompanied minors, are entitled to apply for asylum in France. The decision of the French Government to close the camp has resulted in many of the residents in the camp finally agreeing to do so. It should be recalled that the basic objective and strong desire of the people in the camp in Calais, including unaccompanied minors, has been to go to the United Kingdom as an ultimate destination. The very existence of the camp stems from their efforts to travel to the United Kingdom.
France and the UK have a long history of trying to manage this situation. In 2003 they signed the Le Touquet agreement to facilitate UK border controls in France. Under EU asylum procedures and bilateral arrangements, France and the United Kingdom are working closely together to assess the needs and destinations of the remaining unaccompanied minors from the camp at Calais. The UK has already accepted over 300 unaccompanied minors from Calais. It appears that the UK will be accepting more over the coming days, in particular, those who have family members already in the United Kingdom. We understand that 60 UK Home Office officials are on the buses with them as they are relocated in France to reassure them that their applications to be accepted in the United Kingdom will still be processed in spite of their move from Calais.
President Hollande has publicly stated that the welfare of the unaccompanied minors is the priority. Today, the French Prime Minister, Mr. Valls, chaired a meeting of key French Ministers and officials to co-ordinate the response of the French Government. In a statement after the meeting, Mr. Valls confirmed that the move of the unaccompanied minors from Calais to the new centres in other parts of France is to facilitate the processing of their applications for asylum in the United Kingdom.
The impulse to reach out and help these vulnerable young people is entirely understandable and one that I sympathise with and share entirely. At this point, two EU Governments with far larger administrations and more substantial resources in place are already dealing with this situation in accordance with rules of the European Union and their bilateral arrangements. To date neither French nor British authorities have asked EU partners to intervene in any way or assist them with the situation at Calais.
Before giving the floor to the Tánaiste, I wish to recall the substantial contribution that Ireland is making in response to the migrant crisis. The Tánaiste will update the House on our commitments under to the EU relocation and resettlement programmes.
Ireland provides development and humanitarian assistance to some of the most vulnerable countries in the world. We focus our aid in particular on sub-Saharan Africa, but have scaled up our assistance for crisis situations elsewhere, especially in the Middle East. We are recognised for maintaining attention on forgotten emergencies, including those in northern Nigeria, and the Great Lakes region of Africa. The Government has allocated a total of €651 million in official development assistance for 2017. We have increased our funding for humanitarian emergencies in recent years. Last year it amounted to over €140 million in total, and, because of the dire need, funding is expected to exceed this in 2016. This funding makes a difference to millions of individual lives daily. We need to remember that essential fact. We take a people-centred approach to our development and aid funding and improving the lives of individuals is foremost in our policy planning and execution.
Ireland has provided €62 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria and the region since 2012. This is our largest ever response to a single crisis. Ireland places a priority on ensuring that our humanitarian funding reaches those who are most in need. Irish funding has been used to address the needs of those affected by the crisis by meeting their most urgent needs for food, shelter and health care, but we have also worked with our partners to ensure that the wider needs of vulnerable persons, like women and children, are fully met.
Many of those displaced by the crisis are families and children, who have specific needs. Children displaced by crises like that in Syria are often excluded from education, sometimes for many years, and this can affect the rest of their lives. Several of our humanitarian aid partners, including the Red Cross and NGO partners, are engaged in supporting and protecting displaced children and their families. We have provided funding specifically for the provision of education to children who would not otherwise have access to that funding, shelter or other needs.
In addition, through the rapid response initiative Ireland has deployed individuals within Europe and the region to assist UN agencies in addressing the particular vulnerabilities of women and children who have been displaced by the crisis. Our Naval Service continues to do superb work and has had an ongoing presence in the Mediterranean since the middle of last year. Working closely with the Italian navy, our ships have rescued over 14,000 people. We can all be very proud of this excellent work done by our brave men and women and we salute them.
I intend to share time. I understand I have eight minutes.
I welcome this opportunity to again address the challenges that have arisen from the biggest displacement of migrants in modern times. An estimated 65 million vulnerable people are on the move at the moment. I welcome the recent focus by the UN on the issue of refugees and migrants and the national and international focus on this issue.
Conflict is especially cruel to children. They are not only robbed of their homes and sometimes their families; they are also deprived of their futures. Sustainable solutions are needed for refugees worldwide. It is not only a matter of food and shelter. That is simply the beginning. Although this is an important beginning, we must move on quickly to medium and longer-term needs like integration policies and education. Ireland's humanitarian response is focused on where needs are greatest, especially on those affected by the most severe crises and those affected by protracted and forgotten emergencies.
Since the migration crisis began the actions of this Government and the previous Government reflect the goodwill and concern of the Irish people to reach out and respond to those fleeing conflict and exploitation. A total of 101 unaccompanied minors have sought asylum in Ireland since January of this year and 59 are currently in the care of Tusla.
The witnessing of such a plight evokes sincere emotion, but we also have a duty to ensure the highest standards in responding to children in need of international protection. In recent years we have offered them foster homes instead of the arrangements offered previously, that is to say, hostels. I have met the children who were in those hostels and I saw their plight. They were extremely vulnerable and were exploited because of the lack of protection we gave to them in those hostels.
My priority in establishing the Irish refugee protection programme in 2015 has always been to protect children and families. In this regard I have worked with EU colleagues and through European programmes. Ireland has already met and surpassed its resettlement commitments in respect of children coming from refugee camps under the two-year EU programme. To date, 500 of the 520 programme refugees have arrived in Ireland. The figure includes 231 adults and 269 children. I have recently pledged to accept an additional 260 refugees from the refugee camps in 2017 with a significant further commitment to be confirmed in 2017.
Under the EU relocation programme a total of 58 adults and 51 children have arrived to date. We have confirmed pledges for another 124 adults and 91 children to arrive here by year end. In total 320 children have arrived in Ireland with a further 91 en route under the Irish refugee protection programme, IRPP. As a result of the ongoing work of our teams in Greece, hundreds more will arrive next year. I am proud that Ireland opted in voluntarily, with the approval of this House to the EU decisions offering resettlement and relocation. Although there have been delays in the implementation of the programme to begin with because most refugees were going on to Sweden and Germany, that programme is accelerating and we will meet our commitment of 4,000.
The situation in Calais is developing on a daily basis. Like many in this House I have watched the distressing and disturbing pictures on television over recent months. I have also seen the determination of the people there, in grave circumstances, to form a community. It is an indication of the natural human desire for a community and a place where we can root ourselves. We will continue with our efforts to increase the intake from the relocation countries of unaccompanied minors who are in similar circumstances to those in Calais. If It emerges from Calais over the coming weeks that Ireland is a genuine location of choice for some of these young people, and our assistance is requested, we can of course respond in a humanitarian and proactive way.
The wishes of the children must also be respected. A defining characteristic of the refugees who have gathered in Calais, including unaccompanied minors, has been their very strong desire to go to the UK as their ultimate destination. In our sincere efforts to respond to the migrant crisis, it is essential that we do not impose our perspectives or solutions upon them. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has already spoken about the serious engagement between the UK and France. I do not have time, unfortunately, to go into further detail but I am encouraged by the current humanitarian cooperation between the French and UK Governments. We will continue to monitor the situation in Calais and if our assistance is requested we can respond in a humanitarian and proactive way.
Children are in the front line of Europe’s migrant crisis. They have been bombed, placed in flimsy boats by ruthless people smugglers or sold into human trafficking and too often Europe responds with indifference or even worse blocks their passage to safety with police dogs, tear gas and barbed wire fences. It is only those with the coldest of hearts who would not be moved. The Irish people are deeply concerned and want action. As elected representatives we have a duty to act on the calls of our people but more importantly we also have a moral duty to those fleeing thugs, terrorists and tyrants. I share the concern of those behind the campaign highlighting the plight of children in Calais and note the calls by groups such as the Congress of Trade Unions, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Irish Association of Social Workers.
For too long children have been left living under bridges, in shacks or even 40 foot containers. Reports today that the French authorities are finally acting are welcome but the situation must be kept under review. Experience tells us that there will be more Calais’, there will be more fences on our borders and there will be more mass drownings.
As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs I am keenly aware of the need for resources to accommodate lone children who make it to the safety of our shores. Today I met with the leadership of the Child and Family Agency, Tusla as well as the Immigrant Council of Ireland and Cabinet colleagues to review Ireland’s response to the overall crisis and indeed events in Calais. Tusla has a team for separated children seeking asylum which supports all those arriving alone in Ireland and so far this year there have been 101 children referred to its services of 59 remain in care. Tusla has dealt with an average of 100 unaccompanied children every year for the past five years. Approximately 30% are not received into care as they are reunited, following proper checks, with their families or are deemed to be over 18 years of age.
In addition, Tusla staff have visited centres in Greece. A team will return later this month and continue the intake process for 20 unaccompanied children to come to Ireland by the end of 2017. To date we have prioritised children younger than 15 years who wish to come to Ireland. I anticipate the process of receiving unaccompanied children in Tusla care will accelerate as we are now going to offer places to older children. Resources of €2.4 million have been set aside to look after their needs.
Today I also asked Tusla to review capacity to provide safety, protection and hope to greater numbers of children. That work is being carried out. Options and models for an emergency or humanitarian intake of children form part of that review. While our Navy carries out heroic efforts to save men, women and children in the seas off Italy the process of giving the same people a chance to restart their lives is slow and bureaucratic. It is wrong that those who make it to European shores face chaos often because the authorities have not made proper preparations. I share the concern, frustration and anger of the Irish people at the slow pace of the EU response to this crisis. As an Independent Minister for Children and Youth Affairs it is my firm determination that no child wishing to reach the safety of our communities should be confronted with barriers.
I wish to share time Deputies Brassil, O’Loughlin, Cahill and Casey.
We are extremely concerned about the situation in Calais and the purpose of this debate was to give our response as a country to the clearing of the Jungle and the 1,500 unaccompanied minors in Calais. I am confused by the figures given by the Minister for Justice and Equality because the Migrant Rights Council of Ireland has informed us that under the current crisis we have taken one unaccompanied child. If we are to proceed in this manner it will take ten years to meet our commitment to take 4,000 refugees. The Minister stated: "If it emerges from Calais over the coming weeks that Ireland is a genuine location of choice for some of these young people, and our assistance is requested, we can of course respond in a humanitarian and proactive way". That leaves it as loose as she wants it to be. We are requesting that Ireland steps up and says to the French authorities that we are willing to help in this regard, not that we are waiting to be requested. The Minister said the Irish people are looking for a better response. I put it to her that the Irish people are well ahead of this Government. I am tired of hearing reasons and excuses as to why our record in relocating and resettling is so poor. It is time that instead of saying why we cannot do anything the Government told us what we can do and when. The timeframes keep moving out but we have a moral obligation as a country.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, who I know very well and respect, is concerned with the slow EU response to this crisis but we are part of the European Union. What is wrong with Ireland taking a lead? What is the point in a Minister saying, as the Tánaiste did, if we are requested we will react in a proactive, humanitarian and caring way? What happens to the 150 or 200 children who are unaccounted for now? I take her point that the UK and France have their own responsibilities under the Dublin treaty for relocation and reunification with their families. We have to start now by committing to help these kids, many of these kids have gone through so much trauma and seen things I would not wish on anyone in a whole lifetime, children like Sameer who said nothing could be worse than the experience he had, the problems everyone has had, nobody if they had a choice would live in the Jungle. The Ministers say if they want to come to Ireland they will consider that. I tabled a question as recently as 4 October specifically about Calais. I have raised it consistently with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. We need to do much more than we are doing.
In terms of the purpose of this debate, we have three senior Ministers present but they have not given any commitment. I agree with some of the comments the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, made about the work of our Naval Service. I and my party are proud of the work it is doing but the Minister cannot stand over what he said earlier. I have met migrants. Sixty-nine Syrians are living here under the resettlement programme. That is the figure. The figures may have changed, and the Minister has given a further commitment up to 2017. The purpose of this debate is to try to deal with a crisis as a result of a camp in France having been cleared. It is up to us, as an Oireachtas and a Government, to say that we will be proactive as opposed to reactive and to tell the French that we are open to taking in these children. We have a good system with Tusla to be able to do that.
The responses we have received from the Ministers are gravely disappointing. They were non-committal. We have a cross-party motion that was agreed. Another motion has been circulated which I believe should be moved next week. We should not merely have statements. The Oireachtas, the Dáil and the Seanad, should vote on this issue. It is not within the gift of the triumvirate of Ministers to say we are doing enough because I and the people know we are not doing enough. We should step up once and for all, show just cause and act firmly on our moral and humanitarian obligations.
Not On Our Watch is a great name for a campaign. Not On Our Watch has highlighted for the people in the Chamber and the greater public what this issue is all about, namely, there are 1,500 unaccompanied children in Calais. Those unaccompanied children do not have parents or relatives. They were left in the camp, but their homes burned down in the past week and they have dispersed. Not On Our Watch has highlighted the fact, through the action of many people on the ground, that Ireland is open to taking 200 children. They do not want the 1,500. They want to open their arms and say they are available to take 200 children.
When I sat in the briefing room in Buswells Hotel last week, I could not believe what I heard. They said that 800 families had communicated through the Irish Red Cross their willingness and availability to take in children. We have the capacity, the families and the support of Tusla. We can do it. For once, let us not be reactive politicians. Let us be visionaries and proactive. Let us demonstrate what the people are asking us to do. If any of our children or our brother or sister were abandoned, where would our heart be on it? We would want to support them, care for them and foster them. We should extend our hand to those in France and tell them we are prepared to help by bringing people to this country. These are young children with an education and who are well able to speak English. They have never said they do not want to come to Ireland.
There are Irish Aid workers in these camps and they are telling us clearly that Ireland is a location of choice. It is because their second language is English that these children want to resettle in an English speaking country. If a family in Ireland wanted to help now, is there a point of contact where they can make their interest known that they would be willing to foster a family? If there is not, one should be set up immediately. If it was publicised I imagine that in a very short time we would see the humanity of Irish people and the interest they would show in helping the Minister in the job of relocating these unaccompanied children.
I was aware of this issue but when I went to the briefing last week and saw the gravity of the situation, my immediate reaction was that I wanted to help. I want to do something. The Government has to do something. If the Minister gives me a point of contact, I will make my interest known that I will take one of these children into my family, with a heart and a half. I have a young family and the only question that went through my mind in the past week was that if my 18 year old, 15 year old or 14 year old was unaccompanied in a dangerous country, would I want to help? Of course I would.
I ask the Minister to initiate an immediate response to this crisis. All I can think of is that I want to help. I want to cut through the red tape. We should liaise with the French Government, make things happen, and let the people of Ireland show that we are a humanitarian society, that we care and we want to give these unaccompanied children a future and a life in this country.
As we speak here tonight we should remember the face of Omran Daqneesh, the three year old left bloodied and distraught after an air strike on his home in Aleppo. We should remember the face of Aylan Kurdi, a three year old Syrian child found drowned on a beach. There have been many other Omrans and Aylans, but their faces and their names will never be known to us.
This Government and the Ministers must stop stalling on this issue and focus on what we can and should do. Ireland has a proud history of humanitarian action. As a nation we have always responded generously to the suffering of others. We must live up to that reputation now. We need to play our part, and a leading role, in helping our European neighbours cope with the humanitarian crisis they face, and a good start would be to welcome 200 children to our shores.
The famous political theorist, Hannah Arendt, a refugee from Nazi Germany, wrote about what it felt like to be stateless and unwanted. She reminded us that we are not born free. It is our institutions that make people equal and our organisations that enable us to live in freedom. We should give these 200 children the equality, freedom and dignity they deserve. They have fled from homelands rich in history and culture which have been destroyed in their wake. They have talents and dreams, and they now want to be part of a new society.
I come from a provincial town in rural Ireland and a year and a half ago, we took in 12 Syrian families. I believe we were the first town in Ireland to do that. Those families have blended in perfectly with the local community. The other morning, as I was making my way to Dublin, I saw two Syrian youngsters coming up the street with hurleys under their arms. If ever we wanted an indication that this process can work, that was it.
There are two local people from my area in the Public Gallery who have worked in the camps in Calais. I have been speaking to them throughout the day and they told me of the hardship and inhumanity these unaccompanied minors have come from.
We have to remember our history and where we have come from as a country. We should remember the coffin ships that left these shores. There are 21.3 million refugees as a result of this conflict. We are being asked to take in 200 unaccompanied minors. We need to make up our minds tonight that this will be done. We cannot delay. There is no point in doing it in three weeks, a month or six weeks' time when we bow to public pressure. This needs to be done immediately. Those minors have to have somewhere to go and as Deputy Brassil said, there are many homes in this country that would welcome these minors, and it can be done successfully as I have seen in my home town.
I appeal to the Government not to dilly-dally on this issue. It is too important. We have to lead, not be led. We must do what Ireland always did and show compassion for others worse off than us.
While I appreciate the unaccompanied minors are being taken from the camp in Calais today and that their first preference would seem to be the United Kingdom, I cannot accept the Government's passive attitude towards this appalling situation. We are good at finding words that lessen the emotional impact a situation can have on us, so can we start using language that actually reflects the truth? Unaccompanied minors are children and teenagers. It is as simple as that. Ireland has a proud record in humanitarian assistance, and I give credit to successive Governments and Department officials who have worked to reflect our values as people.
While everyone hopes that the UK will be generous in its response, it is unlikely at this stage that all of these children will be taken into Britain. The diplomatic stand-off between the UK and French Governments over these refugees is shameful and does a disservice to the better values of these people. The camp in Calais stands out as a monument to the disgrace and shame that should be felt by all of us. Irish officials should be in France tonight to offer immediate accommodation to children who will not be taken in by Britain.
The camp in Calais is the size of a small town in Wicklow such as Blessington and if there were 1,500 children sleeping in containers in Blessington tonight, there would be action taken. These children have suffered a lot in their journey to reach shelter. Our values, as Europeans, as Irish citizens and as human beings, must be reflected in concrete actions. Even the Government Chief Whip said today that we need to put our money where our mouths are, and I agree with her. We await the detail from the Government to support that stance.
First, I am disappointed with the Ministers' speeches tonight. They have not captured the mood in the country. They certainly have not captured the mood of the view of Deputies on all sides of the House. We do not want to hear that, as a small country, we cannot do this. What people want to hear tonight is what we can do and we want to hear it from the Ministers before the end of this debate.
One of the most positive things that we can bring to this debate is the generosity of the Irish people, and it is clearly evident. One Deputy stated there was a huge outpouring of support from Irish people who wanted to open up their homes to Syrian children after the death of a young child, and I heard the same. That feeling is still evident right across the country, in fact, it has grown, and the Government has not reflected that.
I am conscious that tonight in the Public Gallery there are volunteers who have done amazing work in assisting destitute human beings, including children, in Calais. I have never met Ms Karen Moynihan of the Refugee Youth Service in Calais but from what I have heard, she is a phenomenal person doing priceless day-to-day work to assist hundreds of vulnerable children in that camp. Ireland is in such a unique and opportune position in that it has such amazing volunteers who now have biographical files and have built trusting relationships with many of these children. We are in a perfect position to take a small proportion of these children and help reshape and bring hope back into their lives. The big positive, as they say, is that this House wants to get this done.
Over 800 people contacted the Irish Red Cross. Let us act on that. There is no legal impediment to relocating these children and there is no shortage of public and political support for it. The excuses are worn out and not credible. It is time for action. Can you imagine, just for one second, the journey of those children and the experiences that they went through coming to Europe? Can you imagine what they have seen and experienced on that journey?
The children are aware of what is being said about them. They are being told. They are listening to the media and listening to social media. They are being labelled as a threat, a burden and something to be afraid of. Why can we not be the first country to say, "You are wanted. You are welcome. There is room for you here on our shores."?
That is the message. It is quite simple. It comes from the heart. One need only listen to some of the stories of what is happening in Calais. One would want a heart of stone not to be moved. It is not a case where we want to see action 12 months or 16 months down the line. We want to see it happening now. That is what this debate is about. It is about action happening now.
The discussion around migrants generally has sometimes - I suppose I particularly look at some neighbouring countries - arrived at a negative, spiteful and even hateful conclusion. It occasionally arrives at the statement that, "we should look after our own first", as if these refugees were cattle, were something other than human, something other than human flesh and blood, something unworthy of mercy, help or humanity in their hour of greatest need. We must take that on directly. The truth is that they are our own. They, like us, are human flesh and blood.
What is more, as an emigrant people, who fled misery and oppression for generations, we should understand. Ba chóir go dtuigfimis cad a chiallaíonn sé gan aon todhchaí a fheiceáil inár dtír dúchais féin ach anró agus pian, agus an gá le bogadh go dtí an taobh eile den domhan.
The purpose of this debate is primarily to discuss what the Irish State can and should do to assist the unattached minors in Calais, and specifically on the need to take on 200 unaccompanied minors. In my opening, I mentioned that so often the debate can end up on a mean-spirited note. It does not have to be that way. This issue, and the action the Government takes on the issue of unaccompanied minors, can be a source of pride to the Irish people, go mbeadh sé mar ábhar bróid go léireodh an tír seo ceannaireacht os comhair an domhain. If Ireland takes up the mantle, it can send a message to the world that Ireland is willing to stand up to its humanitarian responsibilities and display compassion and solidarity with those who are fleeing the most abject misery, the most brutal violence and the most hopeless situations that we here tonight can hardly imagine. I believe the Irish people will respond.
What is being sought by campaigners here tonight, at the rally outside and in the Public Gallery is modest indeed. Two hundred children is a small number. It is an amount that could fit in this Chamber with some comfort, an amount that we are so easily capable of accommodating in this State. Ba mhaith a chlos ón Rialtas anocht go ndéanfaidh siad an méid sin.
The Government can seek all sorts of reasons, if it wants to, why it cannot do it. There is a film in the cinema at present, "I, Daniel Blake", by Ken Loach, and at the heart of the narrative is that bureaucracy is not simply an accident, bureaucracy can be part of a policy and it can often be deliberately constructed to block, obstruct and delay. The Government should not use bureaucracy to delay or frustrate an action that it knows is perfectly possible and perfectly within its grasp. References may be made to Tusla and its capacity. There is a team for separated children seeking asylum and while it dealt with 1,085 referrals in 2001, it only dealt with 97 in 2014. Tá an fios agus an cumas ann. Na rudaí atá uainn ná maoiniú agus tosaíocht. References may be made to the fact that the camp at Calais is not an official camp, when the Government knows perfectly well that Ireland has broad legal discretion and has unilaterally taken refugees from all kinds of situations in the past. Two hundred children willing to come here can be identified at the stroke of a pen - that work has been done.
I hasten to add that this cannot be the be-all and end-all of our contribution, and my party will hold this Government to its commitment to take 4,000 refugees. Our obligations go much further than these children but this is important now because it is urgent and it is an emergency. I ask the Government to take that on board and treat it with the required urgency.
The camp at Calais is being broken up - a harrowing and worrying time for those living there. They are being dispersed across France and it is widely known that this is when those children are most at risk. There are 10,000 refugee children missing across Europe, and largely from situations of transit, dispersal and forced movement of refugees such as this. We cannot allow the number to be increased through our inaction. The Government can do this with ease and can transform, and perhaps save, the lives of hundreds of children who would cherish the opportunity of a new life here more than any of us can imagine.
When one thinks about this situation one thinks about one's own children and families, and that is actually what we really need to do - some Deputies have already made reference to this. As a mother, I think about my own two boys and how one of my greatest fears is not being able to protect them or not being able to be there for them but I know that I am lucky enough to have family and friends around me who, if something were to happen, would step up to the mark and step into that role. It makes we wonder who is there for the children in Calais and why can that not be the Irish people.
As my colleague, Deputy Crowe said, why can we not be the welcoming country that opens its arms and welcomes these children?
I had a conversation about this issue with my nine year old son last night when I was considering what I would say about the situation in Calais in such a short space of time. He summed up the whole situation. I tried to explain as best I could to a child about the horrible situation in Calais, where children were living in temporary camps without their parents and that they are waiting for countries like Ireland to step up to mark, accept them and give them a new home where they can start a new, safe life. He responded in a matter of fact way, as many children do - I sometimes believe we can learn a great deal from listening to our children - and said that if they need a home and did not have parents to look after them, why can they not come and stay with us? It is as simple as that. Some people believe that might be too simplistic but that is at the heart of the matter. At its most basic and uncomplicated, that is what this is about.
As other speakers outlined earlier, we have the infrastructure here via Tusla. I accept that more resources may need to be provided in terms of social workers but we have the expertise and the blueprint for transferring these children, who are at huge risk now. The question is whether we have the political will and the political leadership to make it happen. Is this an issue on which we will step up to the mark?. This is something we were elected to do, and it is something to which I made reference in a speech last week on repealing the eighth amendment. We cannot pick and choose the issues we want to discuss and those we believe are popular. We have a responsibility not only to our own people here but to these children.
Many of us attended the briefing earlier, which was excellent, with the group Not on Our Watch. It is calling on the Government to urgently negotiate with the French authorities and offer assistance by offering a direct transfer to 200 of these unaccompanied minors from France. I am happy to say there has been cross-party support for this issue.
There are many times when we disagree completely in this Chamber but I am sure not one person here this evening would not agree that these children in Calais, who are now being dispersed to centres across France, deserve the opportunity to rebuild their lives. That is an opportunity that we are in a position to offer. I stress to the Minister that we should not let this opportunity go. Let us stand up to the mark and do what is right by these children.
A refugee centre was opened in the town of Ballinamore 15 years ago near where I live and families came there from Africa, different parts of eastern Europe and other places. They came to a small old hotel, which was condemned at the time, and families lived in one room. It caused me to question how we treat people who come here seeking refuge and looking for a safe place to live. I dealt with those people over a few years and they were people of huge ability and intellect. They were given €19 a week and spent their day sitting in a room with nothing in it, feeling isolated and alone. The Ireland of a thousand welcomes certainly did not display that welcome to those people. The same happened in Butlins and in many other such centres throughout the country. If that is how we treat people who come here, we have a problem.
We sent millions of our people to every corner of the earth. Our people are scattered everywhere. Some people left because of conflict but poverty is the main reason people left down the centuries. Yet when people come here seeking the kind of refuge and sanctuary that so many places offered our people, we treat them very badly. That is one of the points that needs to be made in this debate. While we are looking at the crisis in Calais and talking about taking 200 children into this country, we have to do with a heart and a half. As was said earlier, the 800 families who have already registered with the Irish Red Cross have a heart and a half. It is my belief that 8,000 more families would have it if they were asked would they do it. They certainly would.
The Irish people are generous. They want to do something for these children. They want to do something for these people, many of whom have travelled the length and breadth of continents to find safety and refuge. We as a Government and an assembly have the opportunity to represent those people and to represent the people that elect us and to do the right thing by them. The right thing to do by them in the context of this crisis is to take these 200 children into Ireland and ensure they are properly looked after and that they are given the opportunity to flourish and to cherish the great county we have. All of those people will be an asset to Ireland. They are not a burden but an asset. They are what we need. Ireland, above all other countries in the world, has had its people scattered around the globe. Let us do something now to pay back. Let us stand up and say that we will not be found wanting, that we will ensure the Irish people will not be let down by the Government.
I acknowledge the work of the people in the Gallery, one of whom is Mary who spent time in Calais and I have great respect for the work she did with those children. There are also many others - ordinary people from Ireland who went there and did their best. They need us to step up to the mark. The one thing that is stopping this from happening is the Cabinet. The members of Cabinet are the ones who have to make this decision. While we can come in here and talk about it, I put it to the Ministers before us that they are the people who can make this happen. They have the choice to ensure that they put it to the French Government that we will take these people now. While many of these people say that they want to go to Britain because they are English speaking, they want to go to any English speaking country. They will come here if we make it open and welcome for them to come here.
I started my contribution by referring to the past and what happened during the past few decades when we have taken refugees into Ireland, but we have to look past that. We can deal with this crisis but there is no point in dealing with it if over the next few years we do not ensure that refugees who come to this country are dealt with in a much more appropriate manner than they have been dealt with up to now.
I propose to share my time equally with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. I very much welcome the initiative and the spirit of this debate. I applaud the motive and the actions of those who have been seeking to build cross-party, all-party and no-party support for a motion on this truly important matter, a motion my party is certainly enthusiastic to endorse. I am sure the supporters of the motion will understand and share my concern when I say that this should not be a simple once-off gesture, a visceral response to a crisis we see on our television screens which affects and motivates everybody in our country. The situation is far too serious to think it can be dealt with by way of a single spontaneous act, no matter how important doing that single act is, but we need to act.
I have to agree with other speakers, and I do not say this in a divisive sense, that the three Government speakers tonight have failed to appreciate the mood of this House and nation, including that of their Deputies, regarding this matter. I listened with care to the Government speakers. For the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to say that to date neither the French nor British authorities have asked EU partners to intervene or assist them in relation to the Calais situation and that as we have not been asked we do not need to do much is not what the Irish people want and it is not what this Parliament, unanimously I believe, would want.
Mr. Fred McBride, the chief executive officer of Tusla, pointed out a few days ago that his agency receives referrals of about 100 unaccompanied minors each and every year. Thankfully, as the Tánaiste said, we are dealing with these children more humanely now than we did in the past. Tusla now attempts to treat unaccompanied minors equally to all other children who fall within its care without differentiation. They are no longer housed in hostels and are instead housed, if possible, in foster care, or supported lodgings or proper residential placements. Most of them are now allocated a social worker. There has been a very marked decrease in the number of unaccompanied minors who simply go missing, which was a shocking situation for so long.
However, one major problem remains and it is what to do with unaccompanied minors when they reach the age of majority at 18. Some of them if they have applied for asylum must then enter the direct provision system and they face other challenges. Despite what Ministers say, we do not have a targeted national policy. We do not have a clear strategy for unaccompanied minors.
No matter how important and welcome the agreement to take 200 from Calais next week is, it is not a substitute for a comprehensive strategy for the future. The Department of Justice and Equality has responded to queries about accepting children from the so-called Calais Jungle by highlighting our commitments to children coming from the Greek programme and the Tánaiste did so again tonight. That would make sense if, in fact, we were receiving an enormous stream of unaccompanied children in need of resettlement under the Greek programme. The last Government set up the Irish refugee protection programme as a response to the refugee crisis that was unfolding before our eyes. We pledged to accept 4,000 migrants by the end of 2017. There were two channels by which that was to happen. First, there was the EU relocation mechanism established to assist with the pressure on Italy and Greece. Second, there was the UNHCR-led refugee resettlement programme which is focused on resettling refugees from Jordan and Lebanon. I visited the refugee camps in Jordan and I saw the dreadful situation of people who had been wrenched from normal life a matter of months earlier and had their lives shredded and were now in tents. The UNHCR resettlement programme seems to be working in so far as this State is concerned but the EU relocation mechanism is painfully slow. We will be lucky to have accepted 350 or so people by the end of year. We are told that Ireland told Greece that we want to accept unaccompanied minors under this programme but that message does not seem to have gotten through. We are told there are inevitable administration difficulties and inevitable delays. First the Greek authorities must find case files for the minors they wish to relocate here. Then officials from Tusla must travel to Greece to assess the needs of those particular minors and so on. The Department has said it does not know how many unaccompanied minors will be accepted by this route but it is, in large part, up to the Greek authorities. We must say that our will is to prioritise our commitments to vulnerable children and provide them with shelter. The Irish Examinergave us some hard facts yesterday. Perhaps they are disputed by the Tánaiste. Ireland, according to the Irish Examineryesterday, had accepted one unaccompanied minor under the relocation programme. That is what our prioritised commitment has achieved to date, bearing in mind that an estimated 2,500 children in Greece await relocation, one sixth of them under the age of 14. By the end of October, 75 of these children were to be relocated - 39 in Finland, 18 in Spain, nine in Luxembourg, four in Germany, three in Holland and two in Portugal, and we were to take one. We cannot use our commitments to the Greek process as grounds for turning our back on Calais.
Approximately 1,500 children and young people are directly affected by the closure of the Calais Jungle. A generous and humanitarian response to that situation is required immediately. As everybody who has had any discussion about this knows, 800 families have volunteered. I have been approached and I would say there is nobody in this House who has not had conversations with individuals who say they will take somebody into their family. We all know those people. They offer a welcome, a home and an opportunity to have a proper life in an English speaking country, which above all is what they want and it is within our ability to do it. It is the right thing to do for the children in Calais. On an ongoing basis we need to develop a clear strategy for the future. We need to redouble our efforts with Greece to get that programme effectively up and running. We need to demonstrate that when Ireland makes unaccompanied minors our priority, it means we are willing to accept a set number on an ongoing basis.
If we are to make a contribution to addressing this global tragedy on what I have described as an ambitious, coherent and sustained basis, which is the will of the House, we need a properly resourced and managed foster care system. What we have pledged to do is but a small start. This House will unite if the Tánaiste and Ministers, Deputies Flanagan and Zappone, put forward an ambitious policy programme.
There was something very deeply disturbing about the sight we all saw on our television screens of the 1,500 young people who were left to fend for themselves and abandoned after the dismantling of the Jungle camp. It was more reminiscent of a futuristic movie about the collapse of civilisation, with people being left to fend for themselves in that situation, than a Europe that has been proud of its civilisation for centuries and has among its basic values social solidarity and social justice. The idea that we, as Europeans, are not responding to these young people, many of whom have gone through hugely traumatic experiences, in a caring way is very disturbing. It is not just an issue for France and Britain. I take issue with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on that. Perhaps we have not been asked officially by the European authorities but we have been asked by our own people to take at least 200 of these young people. The most important thing we can take from this debate tonight, which has been said by many speakers already, is that we can do this and we can do it quickly. We need to show collective political will. I hope the Government will join with everyone else in the House in showing that collective political will. A number of us who have spoken here were at the briefings. One of the things that came out of it was that it is simply not true to say they all want to go to England. They want to go to an English speaking country. We heard from people today who have direct experience, who have been in the camp, have gotten to know a lot of these young people and have won their trust. In turn, that trust has made those young people trust in the idea that the Irish people will be welcoming and can give them a home and a safe place to live. One of the things we need to put on the record here tonight is that while some of them say they want to go to England, what they really want is to go to an English speaking country where they will feel safe. Ireland is one of those countries and we need to open our arms to them.
The people we met today also told us there are individual files on many of these young people in which it can be clarified that they are willing to go to Ireland. That is the first thing I want to put on the record with regard to ensuring that we have accurate information about all of this. They described to us today young boys and girls who are extraordinarily resilient and determined. Many of them have seen the horror of family members killed and have travelled across north Africa or parts of Asia and the Middle East from countries like Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Iran fleeing life-threatening situations. They are looking for some kind of a future where they can start their lives all over again. The people we met today described those young people as people that any country would want to come and have in their presence. That was one of the facts.
The other thing, which Deputy Howlin and two of the Ministers referred to, is that there is a special team in Tusla that has expertise and experience in dealing with unaccompanied minors who are highly vulnerable, alone and traumatised. As the Ministers, Deputies Fitzgerald and Zappone, both said, 59 young people are already in that programme so that team is expert. It is ready and can be mobilised so we have the capacity to deal with the trauma, difficulties and vulnerability of these young people.
The third area that has been referred to is the fact that the Irish Red Cross has a list of 800 families who were willing to become foster families in response to the migrant crisis when that call was put out last year. It has been said by many people, including my colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, that those families are willing and there are probably a lot more families out there who are willing to open their doors. I have no doubt they would respond again.
It is clear that we have the structures and personnel to provide a new start for 200 or more young people who are in such desperate circumstances. I hope we will have that kind of response from Government. I welcome the reaction of the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Regina Doherty.
However, there must be a whole-of-Government determination to make this happen. The chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Brian Killoran, said that the statements made today must lead to action to help these children. That is the wish of this House and of the Irish people. I do not know what discussions the Government has held. However, it must return to the table and listen to its members who have responded in the humane way in which many of us have responded to the plight of these young people.
The most important matter is that we must get over the idea that we have to wait to be asked and that, somehow or other, they do not wish to come here. They do wish to come here and they will come here. They are in need and we have the capacity to respond to their need. The Irish people know what migration is about and what it is like to have to reach out to another country. These young people are in a situation most of us cannot even imagine. They have gone through horrific situations in their native countries and have been able to travel huge distances through all kinds of dangers. As somebody said today, they are survivors and they are strong. They are so determined to have a future for themselves that they have been able to make their way across to Calais. We must open our hearts to them. I believe that is the wish of the Irish people. I hope there will be a response not just from this side of the House but also from the Government.
I am sharing time with Deputy Bríd Smith. First, I welcome the campaigners in the Visitors Gallery who have put this issue on the agenda.
In an article in The Guardianon 2 August last, journalist Amelia Gentleman wrote:
What does a 10-year-old living alone in the migrant camp in Calais worry about most? Abdul is bothered by the rats that rustle around him while he sleeps and by the effort involved in getting enough food, in the wake of a decision last month by the French authorities to close down the cafe that fed children for free.
He is frightened of the local police who often spray teargas at him. Most of all he worries about his nine-year-old nephew, who is solely his responsibility, and who is struggling to cope with their five-month flight from violence in Afghanistan.
Mohammed, nine, worries about how he is going to find a pair of shoes. His cousin Ahmed, 12, worries about Mohammed and about a third cousin, nine, who went missing last week. He is also anxious about how to conceal his unhappiness from his parents, when he speaks to them on the phone in Afghanistan. They sold half their land to send him, the oldest child, away from Isis to safety in England.
A total of 1,300 unaccompanied minors have been sleeping in shipping containers. Dozens have been sleeping rough in the fields and roads around the camp, with no education and inadequate food. There are 70,000 unaccompanied children in Europe, according to the UNHCR. They are at extreme risk of exploitation and trafficking, and 10,000 of them have been reported missing.
The Irish State bears a degree of responsibility for this situation. Many of these children are fleeing imperialist wars. Successive Irish Governments, with members from this and the other side of the House, have facilitated these wars by providing Shannon Airport to the US military. Allowing 200 of these children to come to Ireland does not even begin to make up for the crimes that Irish Governments have committed against the people of some of these countries. The Chief Whip has appeared on news bulletins in recent days saying it is a no-brainer that this country should take 200 of the children. If it is a no-brainer, what does that say about the foot-dragging, kick-the-can-down-the-road comments of the three Ministers this evening? I am not surprised by the comments of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan. They are Tories. However, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, was elected on a radical, supposedly progressive, ticket. Her comments this evening, in joining that approach, are deeply disappointing.
The Irish capitalist State owes a debt not just to the people and children of these countries but, on the refugee issue, to history itself. In the 1930s and for most of the 1940s, the doors of this State were effectively kept shut to those who most needed refuge, the fleeing and persecuted Jews. Ireland's ambassador to Berlin in the 1930s, Charles Bewley, said that Jewish refugees in Ireland would represent a contamination. In addition, the Department of Justice at the time said, "It has always been the policy of the Minister for Justice to restrict the admission of Jewish aliens, for the reason that any substantial increase in our Jewish population might give rise to an anti-Semitic problem". It was only in 1948 that a mere 150 Jewish children were taken in by the State. We say "No" to a repeat of this shameful episode. The State must be forced to take a far more urgent and different response today.
In addition, the State has not covered itself in glory when refugees and asylum seekers have relocated to this country. According to the UNHCR, Ireland hosted 1.4 asylum seekers per 1,000 of population between 2010 and 2014, compared to a European average of 3.5 per 1,000 of population. In other words, Europe has done two and half times more than Ireland. What do we do to asylum seekers when they arrive here? They have been forced into the direct provision system, prohibited from working and forced to live on a pittance. They have very restricted access to third level education. People who were told direct provision was a temporary solution for six months have been forced to live in these centres for five years - for almost ten years in some cases - with a severe toll on the mental health of some of them. In fact, 16 children under the age of five years have died in the State while living in direct provision centres. The chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council, Sue Conlan, is on record as saying:
It is known that poverty is a contributory factor in childhood deaths. It is state policy to keep children of asylum seekers in poverty and therefore we cannot rule out the possibility that the policy of direct provision is a factor in these deaths.
I do not have the figures for this week but 8,000 people - one third of whom were children - were forced into that system at this time last year.
Studies have found that immigrants around the world are more likely to start businesses than the native born, less likely to commit serious crime and are net contributors to the public purse. Despite this, racism is a problem in all capitalist societies, including in Ireland. It is not easy to grow a cactus in a rose garden and it is even more difficult to grow a rose in the desert. Particular plants flourish in particular soils. The ugly plant of racism flourishes best in a society of inequality and shortages, such as shortages of jobs, school places and housing, and in a crisis of homelessness. Welcoming asylum seekers to this country will be linked by the Anti-Austerity Alliance to a stepping up of our campaign against inequality and shortages, and the profit system which causes them. We support this motion and we will do whatever we can to put pressure on the Ministers and the Government to change their shameful position. We support the right to asylum and the closure of the direct provision centres. We seek education, jobs, housing and shelter for all. We also say, and it is an important point in this debate about racism and the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, "No" to capitalism and its wars, inequality and racism.
Like my colleague, I thank the campaigners in the Visitors Gallery. We owe them a debt. We would not be discussing this tonight were it not for the hard work they have done and their insistence on ensuring this matter was brought before the House. We will do our best to support it and to argue with the other side of the House to take this issue very seriously. I also salute the courage and determination of the young people in Calais and, indeed, of all refugees who have managed to make their way to Europe. They have resisted and struggled against the most appalling conditions. Against incredible, inhumane odds they have made it to Europe and are seeking our humanitarian assistance.
Given the scale of the crisis in Calais and across Europe, the figure of 200 minors is more symbolic than anything else. We should take these unaccompanied minors, after the French Government has destroyed the camp. However, we need to do much more on all the associated issues around the devastation and humanitarian crisis for refugees across Europe. Tonight's discussion has highlighted one simple truth, namely, that the record of this and past Governments on refugees is simply appalling and an eternal shame to the country. Time after time, we have witnessed Government Ministers hiding behind various excuses and administrative devices to justify a callous and inhumane policy.
Although I was not in the House for the Minister for Justice and Equality's statement, I read it. She said:
We will continue with our efforts to increase the intake from the relocation countries of unaccompanied minors... If It emerges from Calais over the coming weeks that Ireland is a genuine location of choice for some of these young people, and our assistance is requested, we can of course respond in a humanitarian and proactive way.
It has emerged that there are hundreds of minors in Calais. It has emerged via the workers in the Gallery who have given up their personal lives and sometimes their professional lives to work with those children, that Ireland is indeed a country of choice and the Minister's statement should have said it had emerged that people want to come here and the Government would work with those who are conduit to those young people to ensure they come here and are protected.
The facts speak for themselves. In the face of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, we have accepted very few refugees. Although we promised to take 4,000, we have accepted 500 under the resettlement programme and 69 under the relocation programme. More than 600 children have died making the crossing over the Mediterranean this year alone. In 2015, more than 1 million people, many of whom are fleeing the conflict in Syria, risked their lives in the hope of finding safety. Children make up 40% of people forcibly displaced worldwide and most of them are unaccompanied. Since 2015, 10,000 unaccompanied children have disappeared in Europe and between January and August of this year, 16,000 unaccompanied children arrived on the shores of Italy. This is not an accident or a complex set of issues. It is due to a policy on the part of the EU, which we eulogise for its free movement of labour - people were at this morning's discussion on Brexit - to implement a fortress Europe policed by FRONTEX, often with horrendous cruelty to immigrants. There is a contradiction in how we treat human beings.
Everybody is hoping we will take in this meagre 200 minors. As previous speakers said, the Government must guarantee that no minor we take in will be placed in direct provision. The system has driven people to suicide. Families live in one room on €19 per week and with no ability to cook for themselves. The system is labelled by the United Nations Human Rights Commission as a violation of human rights. Throughout Europe and Britain, we have witnessed the most shameful abuse and racist lies directed at refugees, specifically those from Islamic backgrounds, from the appalling racism of Teresa May's Government across the water to the smears and lies of the Tory Government to the state-sponsored racism in France. When history is written, it will record that when Europe faced one of the greatest humanitarian crises since the Second World War, it completely failed with indifference and hand wringing. The crisis was caused by Western powers and an imperial game played around the world. The Irish State will be complicit in it unless we begin to open our borders and let them in. This contrasts very strongly with the response of ordinary people after the death of the young Kurdish boy on the Turkish coast a year ago. Hundreds of people indicated a strong willingness to open their homes and are doing so again. We must listen to the people instead of listening to bureaucracy.
I will address the argument often heard within and outside the House, and which some Deputies referred to earlier, namely, that we need to look after our own, that we cannot look after the Irish homeless, jobless and poor. This is not a poor country. What is wrong with the country is that it is grossly unequal. Our record on accepting refugees is appalling. Our record on looking after our own is also appalling. Our health and housing crises are not due to refugees but to the inequality that lies at the heart of our economic and social model. Our Government is incapable of providing social housing for over 140,000 families. This figure has increased in the latest figures released. Funding cannot be found because there is no political will to find it. Instead, we have an ideological reliance on the free market. Refugees are not and will not be the cause of any flaws or failings in how we provide for what we call "our own". In light of this and many other crises we face in the next decade or so, we will see many more refugees and must challenge the kind of racism and indifference we have witnessed, refugees fleeing war, climate change, imperial aggression and, above all, a worldwide economic system that breeds war and inequality. This is the same system that cannot and will not look after "our own".
Refugees are our own. I, and tens of thousands of ordinary people in Ireland, have more in common with the refugees in Calais, those fleeing ISIS across Iraq or the US or Russian bombings in Syria, than we have with a small, wealthy cabal at the top of our society. Refugees do not just bring empty bellies; they bring hands, brains, ability and talent which will make our society much richer for having them. I welcome the discussion. We need to have more of this debate. At the start of the campaign, we want the Government to fulfil its commitment and acknowledge that it, too, has a responsibility to refugees today and in the future.
I wish the Government had lost the knack of surprising me. Sadly, it is not the case. I was appalled by the contributions of the three Ministers. All of us have gathered here in the reasonable expectation and belief that this was a cross-party motion symbolically to respond to a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep by taking 200 unaccompanied minors. I hope, because of the discussion, the Ministers realise they are outnumbered and reconsider, and that when the motion is put next week, they will be on the side of everybody else. Their contributions should shame them.
For months since Deputy Mick Wallace and I visited the camp in Calais earlier this year, we have repeatedly addressed the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, in the Chamber, in personal letters, parliamentary questions and Topical Issue debates. We have sent the Ministers reports of Irish volunteer workers. Two months ago, when we knew the camp was to be destroyed and children were going to be vulnerable, we sent a document outlining practical steps Ireland could take to bring unaccompanied minors to our shores. Yet tonight the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, came here and said "if" people wanted to come here the Government would examine it. The Minister knows people want to come here. Irish volunteers have told her and we have told her. They are in dire need and there must be an urgent response from the Chamber, given the hardship suffered by those young people whose parents have sacrificed everything to send them half way around the world in the hope of a better life only to be caught on the periphery of getting across to these islands. It is utterly reprehensible and the actions of the French and British Governments are utterly sickening.
More than two months ago we put it to the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, that his Department should contact the French and let them know Ireland was willing to take unaccompanied minors, would work with volunteers on the ground and resource Tusla, which has 18 short-term spaces for unaccompanied minors. We are not equipped. Although the Government was warned, it did not put the measures in place. We have applied to take some of these children into our various homes and it takes four months to vet people to take foster children. We need the resources to fast-track it. There should be public advertising to let people know they can take these children. They would not be found wanting.
It has now gone past excuses for what we cannot do. This is coming back next week and I strongly urge the Government to take on board the points we have been making.
A freedom of information document obtained by Shannonwatch relating to permits for landings and flyovers in 2014 revealed that a total of 272 flights were given permits to take weapons or explosives through Shannon Airport. Machine guns, troops, missiles, rockets, mortars, explosives and other war material were routinely given permission to fly through Irish airspace. On six flights alone, 190 tonnes of bullets passed through our borders on the way to Afghanistan from the US. How many refugees did we help to create? The unaccompanied minors in Calais did not choose to be refugees. They would rather be living in their communities in their own countries.
On 15 and 16 November 2014, cluster bombs - a brutal instrument of war that Ireland helped to get banned years ago - were given permission to go to our trade partners, Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, supported by the US, have been committing war crimes in Yemen for 19 months, directly targeting civilians using cluster bombs sold to them by the US, some of which passed through Shannon. They have been bombing markets, hospitals, public gatherings and housing. More than 10,000 civilians have been killed in Yemen and 2.8 million Yemenis have had to flee their homes due to war. There are 7.6 million Yemenis suffering from malnutrition and 3 million of these are women and children. The Government's friend, President Obama, has completed $110 billion of arms deals with the Saudis.
We have been raising the Calais issue since April and Deputy Daly and I have raised it more than ten times each in here. We have been given many different reasons for the Irish Government not helping. We were told the refugees in Calais did not want to come to Ireland and they only wanted to go to the UK. We were told it was not an official camp so we cannot do anything. We were told any unilateral initiative from Ireland would be wholly inappropriate and it is outside our European Union remit. I will not even mention some of the worst responses we got. You know what is inappropriate? It is inappropriate that our Government does not give a damn. That is inappropriate. Society only functions when we give a damn about the other people who live on the planet. They are only across the water. They might have wanted to go to the UK but it will not take all of them. There will be many left. We should not stop at 200. We should take 500. We are not ready for them yet because Tusla has not been funded but let us start getting it right. Let us speak to the French and say we will take approximately 500 of them. We should do what is appropriate.
It is very hard to believe the French authorities could dismantle the "Jungle" camp in Calais, move people on and yet leave 1,000 to 1,500 young people there, many of whom are unaccompanied minors. Some of them may have set out with their parents but became separated when their parents died en route, and some may have come because their families took the opportunity to get their children out of a war zone. We also know figures from February indicate either 129 or 200 young people have gone missing. We were talking about sexual offences earlier and we know that group of unaccompanied young minors are at most risk of exploitation and not being safe.
We know we have been less than generous in the past, particularly at the time of the Holocaust, in welcoming Jewish and other families fleeing Hitler's Germany. Nevertheless, Irish people are generous and we know the numbers of Irish families have offered homes for these children through the Red Cross. Clearly, vetting and child safety laws must be followed, and that will take time, but Irish workers and social workers in Calais would be very good sources of information in this regard.
We are a migrant nation and our children and teenagers have gone to Australia, the United States and the European Union. We know what the difficulties have been like for them but we also know the contribution they made to those societies. We could give these refugees the chance to make that contribution here. There is a bigger picture. Nobody should have to leave a home or country of origin because of war, lack of food or human rights abuses. Nevertheless, our so-called developed world allows, contributes to and creates war. This developed world includes Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, Russia, the United States, the EU and NATO countries. It is our policies on tax, economics and the environment that are creating food insecurity that can cause migration. It is our world that trades in arms that keeps the conflicts going. It is our world that is responsible for the continuing destruction and chaos in Syria, not to mention Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Sudan and Eritrea. It is bodies like the EU and the United Nations that talk the talk about human rights. We can see the far right in certain countries that is using the chaos of the refugee issue as a means of progressing anti-migrant and anti-migration agendas.
What could have been a safe and orderly evacuation of civilians from Syria has descended into the chaos that we are seeing, with people putting their lives at risk. I know the effect of our overseas development aid as I have seen it. I know the work of our non-governmental organisations, our missionaries and embassies on the ground. That is why it is all the more disappointing that we are not doing more with refugees. The Tánaiste gave some figures but progress is very slow. The Nasc organisation is advocating a Safe Passage campaign and we should look at it as a humanitarian assistance programme.
What has been shocking for us on this side of the House tonight is the lack of will evident on the Government side to assist in this issue or take 200 unaccompanied children from France and offer them refuge in our country. That could be done very simply and it would send a very strong message to the rest of the world, particularly Europe, that Ireland is willing to do its part.
I know the individual Ministers on the other side of the House are not without compassion. I know from dealing with the Minister for Justice and Equality on individual cases that she has acted in a very compassionate way in the past. Nevertheless, there is something badly wrong with our system when it only responds in such a negative and mealy-mouthed way in dealing with this refugee crisis across Europe. It is mind-boggling as to why this is the case. It can only be that the officials within the Department of Justice and Equality or the immigration services are saying that we cannot do this because it will open the floodgates and we will not be able to resist if thousands more come. That is not how we should deal with the issue.
The politicians charged with running the country and responding to the citizens should say we will take these 200 children from France. It is as simple as that. They can ring the French Government and say we are willing to help as we have the ability to take 200 children. That is all it takes. That message could be sent or the phone call could be made in the morning. Everybody in the House and the Irish people would support the Ministers in doing that.
There are questions about why this has happened after the response last year to the tragic drownings in the Mediterranean. The Irish people responded in their thousands to that, delivering food, blankets and goods to Greece to assist asylum seekers and refugees. They volunteered through the Red Cross and offered their homes to help people. The Government did nothing. It did not start the ball rolling. We have been told it takes four months to be vetted or approved for accepting a family. We are 12 months down the road from that outpouring of support but nothing has happened in the vetting of people and making them ready to accept the minors who are unaccounted for into this country. We must really get a grip and decide that we want to send out a strong message. We need political will and, unfortunately, it is not there. We must find it.
I have just two minutes and 50 seconds so I will be blunt, brief and to the point. I am not sure if the Ministers do shame but I certainly felt shame listening to their speeches and reading them again as I sit here. They have been asked to lead and the country is begging us to join together, stand with an act of solidarity and take in at least 200 children.
There is hypocrisy in this Chamber. Earlier we spoke for two hours about the protection of children against all types of abuse. There has been a disingenuous use of language by the three Ministers. It is a trinity of Ministers without a sign, really, of Trinity and Christianity.
There was no mention of the 200 children in their contributions just as a symbol. As Deputy Howlin said, there is a huge problem and this will not sort it out but it would be a symbolic gesture if we did that much. Instead of that, they have stood idly by and watched 10,000 unaccompanied minors disappear in Europe. The number of unaccompanied minors who have not disappeared is in excess of 100,000 in Europe.
We, and the Government, in particular, have stood by and watched people live in what is called a jungle and Ministers did not think that word was unacceptable. We had weasel words about France and England not asking us to do anything and about this not being an official camp. Can they just sit there and look at the people in the Visitors Gallery or read the e-mails reaching us on a daily basis begging us to show leadership, to stand up and adopt an independent foreign policy, and to be a proud small nation that will show the way forward when ongoing war and the arms trade is not the way? Can we say that we will not in this Chamber tolerate unaccompanied minors sitting in shipping containers? We should all be ashamed in this Chamber but, fortunately, the people of Ireland are saying, "Enough with shame. Stand up and be counted and take in at a minimum 200 children and follow that with a proper, open and intelligent debate in this Chamber with a view to taking action as an independent sovereign State".
I wish to share time with Deputies Aindrias Moynihan and Eugene Murphy.
It is easy for us all to be critical and say we must have compassion and see what is going on worldwide but it is more complex when we see all the people we have taken in over the years and they are all still incarcerated in homes because the system was unable to deal with them. I signed the motion and believe we should take in the 200 people but it is a more complex issue than we care to even dream of. Some people might not agree but I was privileged to meet the American Secretary of State last Sunday with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan. We listened to him. The Tipperary Peace Convention honoured him for his role and I compliment the convention. They do not give this award lightly. They have been doing this since 1983 and when he addressed us humanely and intently, he told us how difficult the situation is. We had some idea of that beforehand so it is not as simple as rabble-rousing and saying we will do this, that or the other.
I compliment all the NGOs, the Red Cross, the Naval Service and the many people who have done so much over the past number of years rescuing innocent people from the Mediterranean Sea. We must think of the fear felt by those people that would lead them into dinghies and to pay people on the black market to bring them to Europe aboard ramshackle boats with many of them drowning. I salute the Naval Service personnel. They reflect nothing but the spirit of the Irish missionaries who have been recognised all over the world as caring and helpful, we having suffered ourselves before and since the Famine and having our own issues in this country. It is not as simple as opening the floodgates because we have not been able to deal with the people who have come in over recent years. They are in Carrick-on-Suir in my native county and other places. I witnessed the distress when Clonea Strand Hotel in Dungarvan was used last year. It is complex and difficult with all kinds of emotions.
I am in favour of taking in children, certainly aged under six. I have concerns about 14, 15, 16 and 17 year olds and I might be slagged off for that. I visited the Syrian camps in Lebanon with Deputy Grealish and Senator Rónán Mullen and I met young children and their grannies. I saw the fear in their eyes. They put on a welcome for us. We visited at 10 o'clock at night and they had a little cake. These little children were given hours to leave their homes or be slaughtered. We saw how difficult it is to deal with that. I looked for a debate several times with the previous Government over the past number of years about what is going in the Middle East. There is persecution of all Christians and, indeed, all minority Muslim sects. Those denominations had the freedom to practise their own religion or whatever they believed in under the dictators, bad and all as the dictators were and they were bad enough. All hell has broken loose since the invasions and the so-called quest for stability. The Secretary of State acknowledged last Sunday that it is not simple. The people there have to want them to come in and help as well. It is, therefore, complex and it is easy to generalise.
While I am a fierce critic of Tusla, it has said it does not have the expertise or the finances to look after the children in the homes. These children are severely traumatised and I want to take them. My own family is willing to take a child and I have met such an outpouring from people who say they want to take in children and help them in whatever way they can because that is a normal sense of humanity and common decency. If the children are so traumatised, they will need specialised and highly-qualified personnel to deal with them and we must look at that as well. Our State seems to be unable to deal with issues like this when it is asked. There are people we have incarcerated for ten or 15 years in parts of the country and we have to ask why.
There are many complex issues. I have been speaking to the Irish Road Haulage Association over the past 15 months and we have to listen to the truck drivers who have been in Calais about the awful terror they have experienced at times. The fines imposed on them by the French and the British have cost Irish hauliers at least €250,000. Drivers are dealing with huge issues as they go about a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. They are fined €2,000 on the spot if a migrant is found on their vehicle. Most of these are there unknown to them and there is the odd case relating to the black market but that involves a small minority. I know of a truck driver who had a load of 24,000 apples and migrants broke in. Drivers are fined for not securing their vehicles. How can a curtainside trailer be secured? A simple knife will cut it open; it cannot be secured. We must be realistic. The drivers are fined €2,000 and then the insurance companies will not give them cover because the vehicles were not secure. This is an enormous cost to the road haulage industry, which is a vital cog in our export markets. We must support them. Insurance has been loaded against them and many claims are outstanding because the insurance companies are claiming the lorries were not secure. There are many complex issues and we have to protect that industry as well while trying to be compassionate by taking in these people.
Millions of people are displaced and 40% of them are children. Why are some of them there? Why are some of the papers missing? The camp was set up - and it could happen here if a hard border is imposed - from a small beginning and the next thing we had a huge place with an awful name, the "Jungle". Now it is being dismantled and the children have been sent to hell or to Connacht with many gone missing. You have to ask: are they being manipulated or being used as well?
Are we going to rub our hands here in ten years' time and find that we have our own problems in this country? Some people like to bury their heads in the sand, say everything is rosy, and we have heaps of money for everything and we can do everything in their ideology.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. We have to be careful that we do not sleepwalk into something. They are indoctrinated from as young as five or six. I am all for taking children younger than that certainly and after that we have to be very prudent and careful as to who we take. Let us not open the gates to all kinds of issues. I have considered this carefully. I have visited Rome for the past two years with 120 other international politicians to discuss the issue of what is going on in the Middle East. We were asked this year and last year by his Holiness, the Pope, to go our back to our parliaments and have proper debates on what is going on out there. Civilisation is being turned upside down because of the displacement of Christians and Muslim sects. It is not as simple as saying we will solve all these things. We are a small, neutral country and we have to do our best. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Members about what is happening in Shannon Airport but it is not simple.
I am touched by the people who want to take them in. They have genuinely offered their homes to the Red Cross and others. I am a bit bewildered that the system says we cannot cope. The system should be able to cope but it is not, so we need to be proactive and to be able to react as well.
The pictures of the child washed up on the strand and the little boy in the ambulance at war also touched the American Secretary of State who told us as much and in the most humane terms last week. He is a human being as well. I lived through a war. These people are not all monsters or people wearing alien masks. They are humans as well. It is a complex, difficult issue. I support the efforts of the Ministers, Deputies Fitzgerald and Flanagan, and others who are trying to deal with this, and we should try to help in any way we can to deal with this crisis. I want to be responsible about it and I would like to be able to say what I have to say in this Chamber without interruption. I do not interrupt other people when they speak. I have been told by the truck drivers themselves about the hassle they get from the bigger people there. It is not all one-way traffic. Some people like to pack the Gallery every night with supporters who will cheer and heckle and do not like to hear what Deputies say. I have been elected to this Parliament, thankfully, and while I am here, I will speak the truth and in accordance with my conscience and will do so without fear or favour to anybody else.
The road haulage industry must be supported. It is being penalised. No one interfered or got involved before the Brexit vote because they thought it might upset the British Government, but now we are long past the Brexit vote and the road hauliers need to be supported. They are our own workers, about whom some Deputies shout so much. They work very long and hard hours and they need the protection of our State and the French state. We need to support this industry because it is a vital cog, and the hauliers will be the people who will volunteer to bring food and clothes and everything else - volunteer drivers as well - and bring it out when it is collected by the people and donated by the people here.
Like so many other of my colleagues this evening, I agree that we must prioritise bringing these children to safety and making them safe and secure. The situation in Calais is unacceptable. Unaccompanied children are so vulnerable. On humanitarian grounds the Government should signify tonight that it will accept the 200 children into this country. We need to do more on behalf of these children and to provide them with a safe place where they can live, have clean drinking water, food, shelter and so many other basic needs.
Along with a number of my colleagues, I was able to take the opportunity last week to attend the briefing. For anybody unfamiliar with the situation there, it would have been a real eye-opener to learn of the distress and horror that everybody, but particularly the children, are experiencing there. I understand there are also up to 800 families who have already volunteered to take these children into their homes. It should be possible for agencies such as Tusla simply to join the dots here and with regard to children and volunteer families. It should be possible to make it happen and to bring them to some place where they are safe and secure.
The Tánaiste in her contribution outlined how Ireland, if requested, would be proactive. I understand "proactive" to mean taking the lead, showing leadership, going out and making it happen. We need to be proactive. The Government should respond immediately and with compassion and provide these children with suitable accommodation and make them safe. Yes, accommodation, education and integration and so many other issues may become challenges, but we should do it because it is the right thing to do. The Government should make it known immediately to the French authorities that it is willing to accept the 200 children and more if needed. It is unacceptable that the situation as it stands should continue.
Mar fhocal scoir, níl íseal ná uasal ach thíos seal is thuas seal. Bhí tréimhse ann cheana nuair a bhí ar mhuintir na hÉireann taistil. Níl sé ann anois faoi láthair. Tá na daoine seo i ngátar agus ba chóir dúinn a bheith gníomhach agus cabhair a thabhairt dóibh.
Is tamall beag é, ach mar sin féin, I will say my cúpla focal.
I thank Deputy McGrath for sharing his time with me but I certainly do not agree with him. These people, these children, are in a desperate situation. I sum it up by looking at the two children in our family, one aged 18 and a half, the other 13 and a half, and every time I hear or watch what is going on in Calais, whether it is Aleppo or Mosul, I look into the faces of our two children and say that those children could be ours. These people are not all terrorists. I know there are complexities involved but they are innocent people. The House should remember that there were many good, steady Syrian families - great families. They have been destroyed by this terrible war.
It is up to us to take in those 200 children. I believe - I stood outside with the people in the Gallery tonight at one of the sincerest protests I ever attended - that the Irish people, as Deputy Darragh O'Brien, our foreign affairs spokesman, has said, are way ahead of the Government on this. I do not believe that the Ministers, Deputies Flanagan, Zappone or Stanton, or the Tánaiste are without compassion. We all deal with them. We know they are compassionate people. However, their case on this is weak. There is something terribly wrong in the way it is being handled, and I firmly believe that the Irish people would take thousands of these children in without delay. I know in my constituency of Galway-Roscommon, 50 families who would love to take them in. People approach me and ask how they can help and what they can do. Let us all do everything we can in this Chamber to alleviate the suffering of this small group of children, and let us be proud of it.
I will finish on this. The House should remember, as Deputy Casey reminded us, that we took in German children after the Second World War and took in families from the Congo in the past. We can do it so let us do it again.
I want to express disappointment with the content and tone of the comments made by Deputy Mattie McGrath. Tonight is a night for statements on the humanitarian crisis in Calais and what we should do to respond to it. It was not an opportunity to speak about hauliers. There are separate, genuine issues regarding difficulties hauliers have, but tonight was not the night for that. The Deputy caused a sense of disappointment in the tone he took. It was unfortunate. The idea of discriminating between children under six and over six is shocking and beneath what anybody should say in this House.
I think anybody who has had children or knows anything about children finds it impossible to visualise just how dreadful it must be for the many thousands of children who are separated from their parents and their families. When one considers the treacherous journeys many of these children and young people have made and the fact that they are living in the most appalling conditions, it is unimaginable how they can keep body and soul together. One wonders how on earth they manage to survive and hold on to any bit of sanity at all.
I think the Irish people, when they see the scenes unfolding on their television screens every night, generally respond by way of gut reaction. It is a gut reaction and a human reaction. Most of all, I think it is a sense of shame: shame about the fact that other human beings are being treated in such a way and left in such awful conditions; shame, particularly, about the fact that so many of those people are children and teenagers; and a deep sense of shame about the fact that this is happening on EU soil. There is therefore a very strong demand from the public that we as a people and that our Government do the right thing.
People feel that it is especially important that we all think about our own children and what we would want to happen to them if they found themselves in those circumstances. People reflect on their family circumstances and their own feelings. That is why we have got this very strong gut reaction from people. They are saying that this is wrong. Children should not be treated like this and we, as Irish people, need to do something about that.
People are saying that what the Government has been doing to date is simply not good enough. We need urgent action to respond to this urgent problem. Of course, we know that the Calais jungle should have been addressed in 2002 when the original reception centre was closed. We should not have waited until conditions reached a point at which, on a daily basis, 500 people were obliged to queue just to get food. Such situations need to be addressed head-on and must never again be left until they reach crisis point. However, this is a crisis of our own making and Europe needs to change course in its approach to the refugee crisis. As Europeans, we must face up to our responsibility in this regard.
It is quite incredible that the current European budget for dealing with refugees and related issues is structured in the way that it is. The draft budget foresees almost €300 million of a contribution to FRONTEX, which is the organisation for the management and arrangement of borders. At the same time, just over than half of that amount, €153 million, is set aside for European Asylum Support Office functions. Almost twice the amount of funds have been allocated to managing borders that are assisting countries with the asylum process than that allocated in respect of refugees. Ireland needs to push this issue on the international stage and play its role strongly in facilitating the speedy relocation of children. We are well-placed to do so, as several speakers have said. Tusla has considerable experience in meeting the needs of unaccompanied minors or separated children. Of course, Irish people want to do what is right.
There is a high level of consensus in this House about what needs to be done and that it needs to be done urgently. There is a strong demand from the public that we should act and act quickly. We have all been struck by the number of e-mails we have received in recent days and the strength of the sentiments expressed in them. Just to give a flavour of that, the National Youth Council of Ireland, NYCI, released a statement as follows:
NYCI is calling for immediate action to care for the children and young people at the Calais camp. When countries were pulling out of the Mediterranean during the current humanitarian crisis, Ireland stepped in and sent its Naval Services to coordinate and assist.
We are all very proud of that. The statement goes on:
There is precedent there to help and we in Ireland can be proud of this. But now we must act again.
What is needed now is an agreed plan of action that will see children and young people placed in Ireland immediately ... an action plan that delivers [is what is needed now]. Let’s see those who are amongst the most disadvantaged and endangered group of young people in the world safely relocated in Ireland with the best of care and services available to them.
That expresses the current sentiment of the Irish people.
I received another communication from a volunteer teacher who has been in Calais. He said that during his time working there, he came to know many of those young people very well and was inspired by their determination, kindness and enthusiasm for school. Despite the fact that they were living in terrible circumstances, in fear for their lives and with all kinds of things happening during the night, they still turned up enthusiastically for school. He is imploring us, as representatives of the public, to choose love and compassion, not fear, and to support the call to rescue these children. It is important to point out that Uplift were able to gather up a list of almost 8,000 names just in the last few days demanding that we take action. It is also important to point out the work that Not On Our Watch has been doing in recent times and recent days in providing briefings for people and in outlining a course of action.
It is unfortunate that we are just having statements tonight. A draft motion was circulated last week. That motion would have had the majority of support in this House. It is unfortunate that Government chose to go with statements instead of a motion. There is an excellent motion that has been produced by Not On Our Watch and it is hoped that it can be taken next week. The motion in question sets out very clearly the views of the Irish people in terms of what needs to be done now. This is what is required. We must act as human beings with generosity and love. That is required. The Ministers' performance tonight and their response have been extremely disappointing. They must show now that they understand what the Irish people are saying. It is time for leadership.
The Green Party also supports the contents of that motion in looking for the House to accept, among other things, 200 unaccompanied minors from the Calais camp as a signal of our intent. I hope that the Minister, who, as someone said previously, I do not think are without compassion or concern for this issue, will be able to agree and see that motion put into action next week. There have been may words spoken tonight, but I want to refer to the words of someone I have listened to on the migration issue for years. He is not a likely character for some people on the Government side of the House. Mr. Peter Sutherland, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has been consistent, articulate, prescient and ahead of most people here in recognising that what is happening is completely untoward, improper, immoral, unjust or whatever words one might use. Only last month, he said, "The camp in Calais is a truly dreadful place. It is an indictment of society that it exists". He speaks a lot of sense on the need for a proactive approach in managing this migrant crisis. Similarly, in fairness to Pope Francis, his first act as a pontiff was to head to the island of Lampedusa. His simple message was, "Before they are numbers, these people are human beings". His reminder of that simple story of a Samaritan stopping on his way resonates with Irish people. It belongs to all people of all religious views and none. It is something that we hold to be true.
Ireland is a wealthy country. Sometimes, we rightly do ourselves down in this House in saying that we are not allocating money in certain ways and that we could be wealthier. However, the truth is that Ireland is one of the top ten wealthiest and most advanced countries in the world according the UN human development index. Our wealth is largely based on the fact that we are international in our trade and overall approach. It behoves us more than others because of that to be generous, international and global in our thinking. We must think in a one-world way and, yes, step in where there are children who are unaccompanied and do not have a home. We must say that we will provide it here.
Ireland is a relatively safe country. Again, for all our misgivings and our questions about ourselves, we have an unarmed police force and a low murder rate. While we have crime and pockets of deep deprivation that we need to tackle, the truth is that Ireland is one of the safest places in the world. For that reason, it behoves us to take in young children without a home.
Ireland is a welcoming country. Talk to people who come here. It is true. When one is away for a while and returns, one recognises that. It behoves us to show a welcome to these people, particularly because those who tend to be in the refugee camps come from cultures in which they are also welcoming of people into their homes. It is their first instinct and obligation. Friends of mine who have been out in refugee camps meet people whose homes are often a mere tent or the end of a shack. Even in those circumstances, they welcome people in and treat them with hospitality. Even if it is a simple cup of tea and a seat on the edge of a crate, they have a tradition and culture of welcoming which we need to reciprocate.
We must do this in a way that holds the confidence of the people. We cannot do it in a chaotic way. As Mr. Peter Sutherland says, planning and being generous in advance is so much better than reacting after the fact, because that is how we lose the confidence of our people. We need to hold and maintain the confidence of our people in our ability to manage the arrival of these people and to provide a safe home for them, in order that they can add to that home and to society here.
For that reason we need to accept the motion that has been drafted and to show a proactive approach in how we deal with the issue.
The signing in New York last year of the sustainable development goals was a significant development. They are a manifesto for a sustainable future. What is important about them is that they apply to the north as well as the south, which is so clearly true from my own party’s perspective in that they bring ecological sustainability and social justice together. The 15 goals address gender issues, education and water and provide a combined approach. They bring a global approach and that is the way for us to go. By applying that approach it would not only show a responsibility from the north to the south but it would also create a society here where we can bring in people. We must start planning for being an island of 10 million people, including bringing people in as refugees in scale, not just 200 people, but a much larger number and managing it.
I agree with what Deputy Wallace and others said, that we must stop and have no more wars for oil because so many of the people who are refugees are coming because of the long-term addiction to fossil fuels and the geopolitical arrangements we have put in place to protect the oil supply. We must start a war on climate because many people are coming from Eritrea, Sudan, the Middle East and other areas where climate refugees will become the biggest issue and one we must manage and cannot ignore. It was 53° Celsius in Baghdad on a regular basis this summer. That is barely habitable. Unless we start that war all of our efforts here will be to no avail because we will not be addressing the root cause of the problem.
I have good friends here who are refugees and they always say the same thing when I talk to them about their experience. They ask me if I think they wanted to leave their own home, their Eden. We must protect the Eden in their home and in ours as the ultimate long-term response, in addition to taking people in here. I hope we can reach agreement next week. I commend the Irish volunteers and others who are on the front line doing brilliant work. I also commend those who drafted the motion which prompted tonight’s debate and I look forward to it, hopefully, being agreed next week.
I have only five minutes to respond to a two hour debate. First, I acknowledge the emotion, sincerity, frustration and anger of colleagues here this evening to what we have seen on our television screens. This is the issue of our age, namely, 65 million people that we know of displaced across the world and, so far, 4,000 people that we know of who have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Our ships, to which speakers have alluded tonight, have rescued 14,000 people since they went to the area. I acknowledge that achievement.
As we speak, I understand that the children to whom we referred in Calais are being moved to proper and better accommodation. I hope the French and British authorities are talking to and working with the children to see how they can be housed safely. Most of the children, 95%, of whom we know want to go to the UK. Many of them are aged between 14 and 18. As the Tánaiste indicated, we will do what we can when the opportunity arises.
We pledged to take in 4,000 refugees under the structured programme to which Deputy Eamon Ryan referred, from Lebanon and Greece. So far, 609 people have arrived and we hope to have 1,000 by the end of the year. Progress to date has not been easy. Speakers have mentioned 800 inquiries about migrant children but we are only aware of 25 such inquiries. If colleagues have the names and addresses of people who want to take in migrant children they should please ask them to contact the Red Cross and we will process the applications and deal with them. We are working hard to try to bring in people from Lebanon and we are meeting our targets in that regard. The process involved in taking refugees from Greece is now working but the arrangement with Italy did not work due to technical and security issues. That is what we have been focusing on to date. The system is working and its speed is ramping up. The officials are working very hard on the ground in those locations. We want to bring in children. To date, 411 children have come here under the programme.
I have visited many of the direct provision reception centres. I invite colleagues to go to see them if they have not done so already, but to do so quietly and respectfully. They should not go in with cameras or an entourage but quietly meet the people and check out the situation for themselves because many of those who talk about direct provision centres have not been in any of them. If anyone wants to visit a centre he or she should please contact my office or the office of the Tánaiste and we will make arrangements for them to do so. People can see for themselves what is going on and meet and talk with people who are there.
At the moment 500 people in the centres, of whom 137 are children, have got refugee status but we cannot get accommodation for them. If colleagues know of people who would make housing available for those people they should please let us know. We are trying very hard to house those people through the local authorities and State agencies. They are already in the country and have refugee status but we are struggling to find places for them.
I welcome the support of colleagues this evening. I also welcome the debate. I said to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade some time ago that we should have a full day’s debate on the issue because as Deputy Wallace and others have said it is the issue of our age and we really need to work on it. We will take any assistance or support that we can get. The information we have is that the children of whom we speak are moving from Calais tonight. They are not there anymore but are moving out and moving on. We have been in contact with our embassies in the UK and France and we are fully up to speed with what is going on there. The situation should never have reached the current stage but at long last people are moving on from Calais. However, there are similar situations to the one that existed in Calais all over the world. We know they exist in the Greek islands, Lebanon and Jordan and that there are places that are even worse than Calais. We have done a service tonight in having this debate but let us not politicise it too much and see what ideas, suggestions and supports people can come up with. It is correct to say that we need people in this country to come together and say they have houses and they will take in children. I agree that people must be vetted for safety reasons, which is very important. That will be done, but we have only had 25 offers so far. I welcome the debate, which was a good one. It was a powerful and emotive debate and we will probably need to do it again, but our door is open to anybody who wants to come to us with constructive suggestions, ideas and support because those people really need our help.