EU Migration and Refugee Crisis: Statements (Continued)

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 907 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald] I will not have time to discuss that matter in detail but Deputies will find further information in the speech I have circulated.

  The EU-Turkey statement does not establish any new commitments on member states as far as the EU relocation and resettlement programmes are concerned. As I stated previously, a sufficient number of refugees have already been selected to fill the balance of our quota under the resettlement programme and are expected to arrive in three tranches between May and September of this year. We are working hard to expedite the relocation elements.

  As I noted, Ireland has provided a number of international casework experts to the Greek islands to support the implementation of the agreement. We have also submitted nominations to the European Asylum Support Office for consideration for deployment to Greece to ensure the system in place there works better. Two individuals are currently on the Greek island of Lesbos where they will work under the auspices of the European Asylum Support Office.

  We must recognise that Turkey is hosting more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees, a larger number than any other country. The facility for refugees agreed under the EU-Turkey action plan of November last will provide €3 billion in funding to support refugees in Turkey and will focus on meeting their immediate needs by providing food, health services and education. Ireland is contributing €22.9 million to this fund. The first projects under the facility were announced by the European Commission last month. These will provide access to formal education for Syrian children in Turkey and badly needed humanitarian aid through the World Food Programme, which will help to reach 735,000 Syrian refugees with food aid, an extraordinary number. The EU-Turkey statement commits additional funding of up to €3 billion to the facility for refugees if the original €3 billion is fully spent and all commitments under the agreement with Turkey are met.

  The refugee crisis presents an extraordinary challenge at European and international level. We are concerned that the number of people who will be exploited by people smugglers as they seek to cross the Mediterranean Sea will increase in the summer months. We have proposed that the LE Róisín return to the Mediterranean to resume humanitarian missions in support of Italian navy rescue ships. Last year, the Naval Service rescued more than 8,000 migrants in the Mediterranean. We can be proud of its achievements in the face of such a serious challenge.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins The unprecedented numbers of migrants and refugees fleeing war torn regions in the Middle East and north Africa present a serious humanitarian and political challenge to Europe. Ireland must play its part in assisting those in need of refuge, both at home and by providing help in front-line camps. Refugees based in Ireland and the communities in which they are placed must be afforded the supports they require to fully integrate into society.

  We must work with our European Union colleagues and the international community to help bring an end to the civil war that is destabilising Syria and generating the refugee crisis. The Fianna Fáil Party supports a significant expansion of aid to refugees in camps in the Middle East, including the release of further EU funding for this purpose. In addition, Irish funding for this purpose should be doubled to €1.2 million.

  We must stand with others in fighting against extremists who are using this crisis to promote fear and distrust between groups. We insist that Europe remains true to its democratic and inclusive values. We should also continue to accommodate refugees in Ireland as part of a comprehensive international response.

  The Fianna Fáil Party has been proactive on this issue from the start. Last summer, our spokesperson on European affairs, Deputy Timmy Dooley, visited Calais. In the wake of his experience, he urged the Government to hold a national policy forum on migration to develop Ireland's response to the escalating crisis and seek to host a European summit on the issue. We have continually stressed the need for strong leadership on this issue. Ireland knows more than most countries the compassion that other countries have shown to our citizens over many decades.

  There is no doubt but the Syrian conflict is central to the refugee crisis and to end it would do much to alleviate the crisis. While resolving this conflict is critical, a key priority must be to provide aid to its victims. The humanitarian crisis in Syria has become a migration crisis. More than 250,000 people have been killed and more than 11 million have been displaced, while approximately 4.5 million Syrians have left for other countries where they live in desperate and depressing circumstances. People in search of a safe and secure future are leaving their homes and the refugee camps. The pressures being faced in Europe are the unavoidable consequence of five years of mounting misery. People are making traumatic and often deadly journeys because they believe they have no other option, as they have been cast out of their homes by brutal players on both sides of a terrible conflict.

  Given the scale of the crisis and the dreadful humanitarian disaster involved, the outcome of the recent EU summit is at best insufficient and at worst reprehensible. The central agreement at the recent EU summit concentrated exclusively on trying to block the main migration route to Europe through more strenuous border controls. This objective is to be accomplished chiefly through Turkey stopping people from leaving, in return for which a series of long­standing Turkish demands are to be accommodated. The focus should be on ensuring appropriate conditions are in place for refugees but, sadly, this is not the priority. The United Nations and relief agencies still experience difficulty in raising funds, stretched as they are to the limit as they seek to deliver basic shelter, food and safe water for millions.

  As my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, has pointed out previously, all countries have a basic moral duty to step up and do more. While Ireland is doing commensurately more than others, this is not sufficient. We should review our support programme, both our direct aid to organisations and the funding we provide through international bodies. We should work with partners in the European Union to deliver at least basic standards of provision. The deal with Turkey is most unlikely to deliver significant benefits and runs the real risk of causing grave damage to the fundamental principles of the European Union.

  While attempting to dissuade people from making high risk sea journeys is not unreasonable, to link this objective to visa free travel for Turkish citizens and the acceleration of accession talks for Turkey sets a dangerous example. As our spokesperson on foreign affairs, Deputy Brendan Smith, has made clear, Fianna Fáil will oppose any measure that goes against clear legal obligations. The European Union cannot undermine the core values it demands of member states and countries that enjoy automatic rights to access the Union.

  Many criticisms have been made of the EU-Turkey deal and it is difficult to disagree with the following view expressed by the Immigrant Council of Ireland: "Attempts to sell the EU-Turkey deal as a solution to this crisis are fooling no-one - not only are there very serious questions about whether the deal violates human rights but it has had no impact whatsoever on the longer routes where most of the lives are lost". NASC, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, which works with migrants and ethnic minorities in Cork, stated the following: "If EU leaders think that by shutting Europe's door on people that their need to flee will end, they are demonstrating a profound and deliberate misunderstanding of the level of human suffering and terror felt by men, women and children fleeing war and conflict". The Irish Refugee Council stated:

There is therefore a real possibility of one of two consequences arising from the EU-Turkey deal on returns to Turkey: either Greece will grant refugee status to the majority of those who have or will arrive in the country or they will be returning prima facie refugees to Turkey where they will face an uncertain future. Turkey has not only already accommodated 2.7 million refugees, many without the ability to support themselves, it has also not signed the Protocol to the Refugee Convention and is itself facing challenges to its own security. The agreement to provide resettlement for every Syrian national registered in Turkey for every one returned from Greece itself ("one in, one out") is alarming and has very little chance of success.

It is highly unlikely that this deal will play a pivotal part in reducing the number of refugees seeking to journey to Europe.

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