Ireland should welcome unaccompanied minors from Calais’s ‘Jungle’

Impulse to help should be written in our DNA

 

The Government should accept the prompting of opposition parties and provide accommodation for 200 unaccompanied minors who are being displaced from the migrant camp at Calais known as ‘The Jungle’. An estimated 1,500 children and young people are directly affected by the closure and a generous Irish response to this humanitarian problem is required.

Government chief whip Regina Doherty and Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes have expressed personal support for such a development. But it is unclear whether an agreed motion, attracting unanimous support, can be placed before the Dáil next week. An increase in the number of refugees has the capacity to generate some public resistance. But offering these young people a welcoming hand and an opportunity to improve their lives is, undoubtedly, the right thing to do. As a society with a long and unhappy history of hunger and emigration, the impulse to help these unfortunate children should be written in our DNA.

Granting unaccompanied minors permission to come here would represent a first step. Provision will also have to be made for suitable accommodation, education, work placements and integration. In that regard, replication of the type of services available at 34 direct provision centres for asylum seekers would not be appropriate. Some of those asylum seekers and their families have been waiting for years to have their status resolved; are unable to cook for themselves; denied the right to work and are provided with a minimum basic allowance.

In reaching out to young refugees displaced by war and persecution, the Government should broaden its horizon and implement the recommendations of the McMahon report on asylum seekers. It proposed the establishment of a fast-track to residency for applicants after five years and that they should be allowed to work after nine months. Official concern that a relaxation of these harsh conditions would make Ireland a more attractive destination has acted as a brake on reform. It is time the Government stepped out from the shadows.

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