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Refugees: Ireland must do more

In 2015 alone, over one million refugees and migrants tried to enter the European Union by crossing the Mediterranean. Over 3,700 of them drowned. The May 2016 issue of Working Notes (Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice) is dedicated entirely to this humanitarian crisis. The editorial laments the response right across Europe, including in Ireland. Various EU member states have reintroduced internal border controls; the main energy is going into stemming the flow of refugees, denying them the right to seek asylum by excluding access to the territories; and in Greece, for example, there is enforced removal of refugees, sending them to Turkey, a state with a poor human rights record.

Ireland’s response to the crisis, according to the editorial, has been far from exemplary. The political response “has not reflected the generosity and willingness to help expressed by many individuals and communities”. The country is committed to provide 4,020 resettlement and relocation places over two years. This is more than the EU quota minimum, but given the scale of the crisis “Ireland can and should do more”.

In 2014 the Irish government committed itself to treating asylum seekers “with the humanity and respect that they deserve”, particularly by reducing the length of time they would spend in the system. With this good intention in mind, they established a Working Group to review the protection process, including direct provision, and to make recommendations to the government. The Jesuit Refugee Service Ireland was represented in that group. In his account of the Working Group and its report, Eugene Quinn (director of JRS Ireland) draws a disheartening picture of the lacklustre response to the problems identified and the effective failure to implement the recommendations.. For this reason, “the lengthy waiting times and the unsuitable living conditions which prompted the establishment of the Working Group will continue”. This “will inevitably impose heavy costs on the individuals, families and children living for prolonged periods in Direct Provision centres”.

David Moriarty’s article on the EU refugee crisis, ‘A shared responsibility’, takes a hard look at the realities of the European response and at the genuinely complex issues which the integration of refugees raises. He is clear that the political response in Europe genrally has been inadequate, but he notes that the response of some individuals and communities has been impressive. This is a time, he concludes, for us to remember that, however complex the particulars of integration may be, the bottom-line is that people are dying. A Christian response is required.

In ‘Our common humanity: Human rights and refugee protection’, Colin Harvey examines the legal structures and the principle which should govern the Euruopean response to the crisis. And in ‘Climate change and population displacement’, Catherine Devitt addresses the issue of the growing number of people who have to flee from their regions on account of the “untenable environmental conditions”.

All the articles from this issue of Working Notes can be read online at http://www.workingnotes.ie.