Gazette Features

 

Make your voice clear: We must help Syrians

OVER the past week, pressure has been mounting on the Government and Irish people to make a stand and open our borders to the millions of Syrian refugees who are in desperate need of help.
The most significant catalyst of late was the publication of the harrowing images of three year- old Aylan Kurdi, the little Syrian boy who was found dead on the shore of a beach near the Turkish resort of Bodrum after he drowned while trying to flee his war-torn country.
Pressure has been steadily mounting on Ireland to acknowledge and step in to help the millions of Syrian people who are desperately seeking safety.
Aoife Murphy, a spokesperson for the Migrants Right Centre Ireland (MRCI), told The Gazette that she noticed that people were reaching a level of shock prior to the image of Aylan because nothing had been
done yet by the Government, and that there had been no real response to the migrant crisis.
She said: “In particular, since Germany stepped up and said that they will take 800,000 people, we suddenly started to ask what are we doing.”
Prior to the publication of the image of Aylan, Ireland had originally pledged to take in 600 refugees over two years.
Due to increased pressure on the Government, however, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, spoke on RTE radio last week and gave a figure of 1,800, saying: “If the figure of 150,000 [which is the current number that Europe has agreed to], for example, is put on the table, that will effectively mean a trebling of what we have committed to already.

“So if that figure is agreed at a European level, that brings us to a figure of 1,800 people, and clearly then we would have to see what extra initiatives we can make in terms of contributing aid, in terms of the naval search and rescue [ongoing mission].”
Following this statement by Minister Fitzgerald, the Department of Public Expenditure and the Office of Public Works announced this week that they were working on a draft report in an effort to establish
any available buildings which could be suitable for refugee families.
This draft document, which has no clear spending limit, may need to be altered depending on how many people Ireland is asked to accept in an initial EU country by- country proposal later this week.
An initial figure of 5,000 people was given by the Tanaiste, Joan Burton, this week.
She said: “It could be 5,000, it could be more. I wouldn’t like to put an upper limit on it. They will go into accommodation, but they won’t be in the same category as those in direct provision.”
The EU continent-wide initiative will be discussed at a meeting of justice and home affairs ministers on September 14, which will be attended by Minister Fitzgerald.
While these steps to help Syrian refugees are all steps in the right direction, Murphy said that the MRCI thinks that the Government should be saying Ireland will take thousands of people.
She said: “We have the capacity to take tens of thousands of people – that’s what we could be doing.” Murphy compared the situation in Syria to World War II, and said that this was the greatest refugee crisis since that time.
“This is a humanitarian crisis. It is an exceptional moment in history, and we have to do something
because we cannot look back on this in 20 years’ time and say: ‘What were we doing?’
“We didn’t do enough during World War II, and we know we could have saved more people. We all know the six million amount of people who perished [then], and we could have saved some of them.
“We turned away refugee boats then, we cannot do the same thing now. We have to learn the lessons of the past.”
As it stands currently, there are more than 12.2m Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN statistics.

It is estimated that 5.6m of these are children, putting an entire generation of children at risk.
Murphy said that the best way Irish people can help is by contacting their local TDs to tell them that we need to take in more refugees.
She said: “It is vital that we all contact our local TDs. Right now, that is the most practical thing people can do, along with donating to aid agencies.

“The voices that will dominate at the moment are people who think we shouldn’t be letting anyone in, and these people are very determined. They are the people that will write to the TDs.

“We need to make sure that our voices are being heard too, so get on to your TD, tell them that you think we should be the ‘island of a thousand welcomes’ that we like to think we are.”
To sign a petition by Uplift, an independent volunteer group, to allow more refugees into Ireland, see https://uplift.