A new Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Ireland report highlighting that Ireland can and should do more in responding to the EU Refugee Crisis was launched in Milltown Park, Dublin 6 on 22 June 2018. Entitled Sharing Responsibility, Saving Lives, the report critically analyses Ireland and the EU responses to the Refugee Crisis between September 2015 and December 2017. At the height of the EU Refugee Crisis in September 2015, Ireland committed to providing 4,000 places under the Irish Refugee and Protection Programme (IRPP) by the end of 2017.
Among the report’s key findings are that Ireland will fail to reach the original commitment of 4,000 places by the end of 2019, more than 2 years after the stated 27-month programme timeframe elapsed. In the same period, the EU has failed abjectly to deliver on its own relatively modest commitments, with only one in five of the promised 160,000 relocation places delivered by the end of 2017.
Speaking at the well-attended event in the Arrupe Room, Mr. Eugene Quinn, National Director, JRS Ireland stated: “Ireland has mirrored other EU Member States in falling far short of its targets. Operational difficulties and the impact of the housing crisis must be acknowledged. Nevertheless, at the end of 2017 Ireland has delivered 1,570 places out of 4,000, with a further 525 deferred. Adding in publicly announced targets for 2018-19, Ireland will fail to reach the original commitments by the end of 2019, more than 4 years later. Ireland can and should do more.”
In the foreword of the report, Irish Jesuit Provincial Leonard Moloney SJ commented: “Ireland has its own unique folk-memory of its people having to take to the high seas in search of refuge and safety. The experience of tens of thousands perishing on so-called coffin ships when fleeing from the Great Famine is a terrible part of our story and past generations of Irish people have had to flee their own country through the centuries to escape injustice, persecution and conflict here and find a welcome elsewhere. How can we be unresponsive now to others in a similar plight?
“Moreover, the Gospel call to ‘welcome the stranger’ (Matthew 25,35) is a special challenge. Pope Francis has been unequivocal about the moral imperative to respond to the needs of refugees and forced migrants. His first visit as Pope outside Rome was to the island of Lampedusa, the European arrival point for people trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa.” In 2014, he addressed the Council of Europe where he foresaw the dangers of a failure among EU member states on the issue.
This week UNHCR announced there are a record 68.5 million persons forcibly displaced worldwide. In the three-year period 2015-17, one and half million people arrived by sea seeking refuge in Europe. 11,986 persons, men, women and children, lost their lives at sea making these journeys.
Fr Ismael Chan Gonzaga SJ of the Vatican’s Migrants and Refugees Section, delivering the keynote address, emphasised that nobody should be comfortable with this reality: “Over three years more than 1.5 million men, women and children took to seas in flimsy vessels heading to Europe in search of safety and protection. 12,000 died at sea making those journeys. Faced with the scale of human need and loss of life, we are all called to act. The time for action is now.”
Commenting on the increasing rates of deaths at sea, Mr Quinn added: “Although significantly fewer people are arriving by sea since the EU-Turkey Deal in 2016, the rate of deaths has increased. 1 in every 50 forced migrants died trying to enter Europe in 2017, a rate 5 times higher than in 2015. Truly the Mediterranean has become a cemetery.”
There is a moral imperative to save lives. The report commends the role of the Irish Navy as part of EU search and rescue operations that saved 445,000 lives since 2015. But it questions how responsibility is shared across member states to receive and protect those saved. It concludes the EU has failed to uphold its founding principles in responding to the EU Refugee Crisis. The EU-Turkey deal was effective in stemming the arrivals by sea but represents a betrayal of European values. Essentially rather than sharing responsibility across member states, Europe is shutting its borders.
The Irish Provincial points to the pontiff once again: “The following year  Pope Francis called on every parish, every religious community, every monastery and sanctuary in Europe to host a refugee family: ‘Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who are fleeing death by war and by hunger, and who are on a path toward a hope for life, the Gospel calls us to be neighbours to the smallest and most abandoned, to give them concrete hope’. Responding to the plight of migrants remains an enduring theme of his papacy, Francis continually uses his global status and the moral authority of his office to focus attention on this terrible crisis and the associated human suffering.”
Finding suitable housing is identified as the greatest challenge facing persons granted protection or permission to remain in Ireland. Lack of accommodation even delayed the arrival of persons from Greece and Lebanon. National housing policy should incorporate the needs of protection seekers and a consistent model of integration supports should be provided to all persons granted status, irrespective of their pathway to protection.
The EU Refugee Crisis is not over. In face of the scale of human need, the report concludes we are all called to act, as individuals, as communities, as Church and as States. The time for action is now.