Tuesday, 12 November 2019
Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Will the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade update me on efforts to address the global migration crisis, outline the Government's position on same and make a statement on the matter? Migration is one of the biggest challenges facing the world. As it has huge implications for global politics, I would welcome the Tánaiste's response.
I thank the Deputy whom I congratulate on being given this spokesmanship. I look forward to working with him for however long we have left in this Dáil which I imagime will be a few months.
The number of international migrants has risen to 272 million in 2019. That is an extraordinary number and it represents an increase from 221 million in 2010. Clearly, migration is a significant and growing phenomenon. It is important to remember that the vast majority of people move legally and in an orderly fashion. All of the evidence demonstrates that safe, orderly, regular and freely chosen migration benefits countries of both origin and destination, as well as improving the lives of migrants. Migration can also take place in an unsafe and irregular way, often because of hardship and persecution, as illustrated by recent tragedies and the continuing loss of life in the Mediterranean. Conflict and persecution, as well as poverty, lack of opportunity and environmental degradation, continue to propel people to seek out opportunities for sanctuary and livelihoods elsewhere. There are almost 71 million forcibly displaced persons globally.
We support the European Council position that a comprehensive approach is essential. Progress has been made, with the number of irregular border crossings into the European Union at its lowest in five years. Challenges remain, however, and Ireland is working with its EU partners to resolve them and put in place sustainable solutions. In 2015 Ireland committed to accepting up to 4,000 people through the EU relocation programme and the UNHCR-led refugee resettlement programme. Some 2,600 people have so far arrived in Ireland under these programmes. Ireland has been active in search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean, with the Irish Naval Service having rescued more than 17,500 people there. This year Ireland has agreed to receive up to 100 people disembarked following search and rescue operations as part of the refugee protection programme. Ireland played a key role in the agreement at the United Nations last year of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees, both of which are important frameworks for international co-operation on migration and refugees.
My Department, through Ireland's international development programme, is also supporting efforts to address migration challenges. We are providing €15 million for the EU Trust Fund for Africa which is financing over 200 projects in 26 countries. Our funding for the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey supports almost 1.7 million refugees with basic services. We are contributing over €15 million this year for the vital work of the UNHCR.
While the global migration crisis may have lessened somewhat since its height in 2015, the recent appalling discovery of 39 bodies in a lorry in Essex has put the issue back in focus. The shocking discovery was followed by MEPs voting against a non-legally binding resolution that called on European countries to step up search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean. As the Tánaiste knows, Fine Gael's four MEPs voted against the resolution. According to the latest UNHCR statistics, as of 4 November, 96,649 refugees and migrants have entered Europe, while it is estimated that just over 1,000 people are missing or dead. Certain states have been affected by the migration crisis. While the European Union has put in place mechanisms to deal with the increase in the number seeking asylum in the Union, not all member states have committed to sharing responsibility for addressing the matter. While I realise it is a very sensitive issue, it is clear that the European Union can and must do better. I accept that Ireland has opted in to many of the measures proposed at EU level. I support the measures taken to address the root causes of migration, including the EU Trust Fund for Africa which aims to address the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa, but my party and I are critical of some of the third country arrangements put in place by the European Union.
They are fair questions, but, first, let me clear up a couple of points. The recent vote in the European Parliament which some Fianna Fáil MEPs did not even attend was on a non-binding resolution, but it also had legitimate problems in the context of the sharing of information in the Mediterranean. Let me be very clear: Ireland would be willing to send a ship back to the Mediterranean to assist in search and rescue efforts, as we have done in the past. The Taoiseach has confirmed this, as have I. This week I met representatives of a number of the NGOs that have been working to provide search and rescue support in the Mediterranean, saving people's lives. The European Union needs to do more than it is doing. Its inability to achieve a collective agreement on migration and the humanitarian response needed for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean is not its finest hour. There are many countries, including Ireland, that are trying to find a much more co-ordinated and cohesive way forward on the issue and we will continue to do so. Countries such as Germany, in particular, are trying to build consensus on how to put together a collective effort that will not only save lives but also deal with the root causes of migration from the continent of Africa.
I welcome the Tánaiste's response. The approach adopted by Ireland in the Mediterranean is a humanitarian one which is in keeping with our tradition generally as a nation state.
Fianna Fáil has been consistent in its criticism of returning migrants and refugees to Libya because of circumstances there. It cannot be considered to be a safe country. Conflict, economic collapse and a breakdown in law and order, coupled with smuggling networks and criminal gangs, make Libya a dangerous place for migrants. As a party, Fianna Fáil has consistently voiced its concern about the horrendous conditions in detention centres in Libya and the inhumane treatment of those detained in them. There are reports of human rights abuses, violence and rape. I would welcome the Minister's response on the matter.
In this House we share genuine concern about the humanitarian catastrophe in Libya in terms of the number of refugees who are staying in totally unsuitable conditions and very vulnerable circumstances. I speak to UN agencies and NGOs that have dealt with many of the people concerned. Many of their stories were shared with Irish Naval Service personnel on the decks of Irish naval vessels. I believe four Irish naval vessels went to the Mediterranean. Only yesterday at the Foreign Affairs Council, the German Foreign Minister, Mr. Heiko Maas, briefed us on a recent visit to Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, where a new Berlin process is trying to make progress on a ceasefire that it is hoped can form the basis of political stability that can be the start of the response needed politically in Libya.
On a humanitarian level, my views are known. I am very frustrated that the European Union has not been able to agree collectively on an approach. I hope that with the new Italian Government and new efforts by a number of EU member states, we will soon be able to have a collective approach that will be more effective than the current one.