Reports: December 18, 2016
On Thursday 15 December, Betty Lacey and Denise Boyle fmdm attended a conference hosted by the European Migration Network (EMN) titled: ‘Responding to the Refugee Crisis’. As part of the background brief we heard that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that approximately 65.3 million were forcibly displaced around the world in 2015. This equates to 28 people per minute! Most were displaced within their countries. Globally 21.3 million are refugees, of whom 51% are children i.e. under 18 years of age.
Jim Clarken of Oxfam Ireland, during his presentation, stated that only one to two million refugees are trying to get into Europe (Oxfam work in 90 countries). To put this in context, the population of Europe is approximately 743 million. The reality then is not that Europe is facing a ‘refugee crisis’ rather that Europe is not sufficiently organised or prepared, to be able to deal with the number of refugees arriving!
Apart from Jim Clarken and Abbas Ghadimi – a former programme refugee - all the other speakers were associated with different European governments that are engaged in formal programmes of resettlement and integration. These included Ireland, Germany, Portugal and Sweden. Each country speaker spoke of the finance, time and care taken to both welcome refugees and to assist with their integration into the respective culture of their new ‘home’. A moving slide showing an Eritrean couple putting the key into the door of their own apartment in Northern Sweden reflected their joy. This couple had been in a refugee camp for 20 years prior to obtaining permission to be resettled in Sweden!
As the day progressed we realised that the State plus private sponsorship resettlement programmes we heard about, are only dealing with a few thousand refugees in total. This is versus the hundreds of thousands of refugees who arrived in Europe during 2015-6. It became clear that the thousands, who risked their lives in unseaworthy vessels to reach Europe, were not yet eligible to be considered for resettlement. One of the reasons is that Greece and Italy are unable to keep up with the paperwork involved in processing each migrant. This was cited by one speaker as the reason why his government is allowing so few migrants into his country! Speakers acknowledged that the Greek and Italian governments are doing an amazing job, in welcoming and providing essential services to those who land on their shores. The important role of NGOs in this process was highlighted.
Ireland, which committed to taking 4,000 refugees in September 2015, has to date only welcomed 400!! At the same time the five Irish naval ‘search and rescue missions’ carried out on the Mediterranean Sea, were successful in saving 5,000 refugees from drowning. An excellent documentary reflecting the challenges the crew encountered and the success of the latest naval crew on the LE Samuel Beckett can be viewed here
Despite this, some query would it be better for Ireland to combine with the EU and UN to go after the people smugglers in Libya and other countries i.e. prevention rather than rescue? The smugglers extort huge sums of money from desperate vulnerable people, for a passage to Italy or Greece on an unseaworthy vessel. To date this year the tragic statistic is that 4,715 refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean. William Spindler, spokesperson for the UNHCR in Geneva, speaking about the unfolding horror told a press briefing: “From one death for every 269 arrivals last year (2015) in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiralled to one in 88.”
A serious omission of the conference in view of the above was that the urgent need for the UN and EU to address the root causes underpinning the mass movement of refugees was not addressed. War and conflict is a critical root cause. This alone causes hundreds of thousands to flee for their lives, thus making it imperative that immediate paths to peace are explored. Over coffee we discussed different aspects of this most complex issue. Several people spoke about the apparent hypocrisy of some major players, who whilst negotiating peaceful resolutions to major conflicts, are simultaneously supporting the lucrative industry of arms manufacturing, in their respective countries!
Meantime a desperate mother was overheard in Zuwara Port in Libya: ‘I am putting my child in this boat to Europe, because she is safer on the sea than on the land’....
Messages to: Denise Boyle fmdm - MIA Global Action