Ireland needs to be ‘far more generous’ to refugees

EU resettlement quota too low, says Irish Centre for Human Rights director

Prof Michael O’Flaherty of NUI Galway at Palmyra Park in Galway city. He says the shelter Europe is offering refugees now is a shadow of what they did 20 years ago. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

Prof Michael O’Flaherty of NUI Galway at Palmyra Park in Galway city. He says the shelter Europe is offering refugees now is a shadow of what they did 20 years ago. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

 

Ireland and its European partners need to be “far more generous” in response to Syrians and other refugees fleeing conflict, Irish Centre for Human Rights director Michael O’Flaherty has said.

The EU’s proposed resettlement quota of 20,000 refugees is in “stark contrast” to the 100,000 people taken in after the break-up of Yugoslavia, Prof O’Flaherty has said.

“This lack of generosity extends right across Europe, ” he said, speaking at NUI Galway (NUIG).

“Offering shelter to 20,000 people is a shadow of what Europe was willing to do 20 years ago.”

More than 1,800 migrants fleeing conflict in Syria, human rights oppression in Eritrea and turmoil in Libya are believed to have died at sea so far this year, and thousands have been rescued.

However, Prof O’Flaherty noted that UN Human Rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein had called last week for a “more humane, less mean-spirited response”, and urged EU states to take a “more comprehensive approach” which focused less on enforcement at borders and more on resettlement of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The UN commissioner had described the resettlement quota of 20,000 as “wholly inadequate to the magnitude of this crisis”, and called for “far greater emphasis on expanding channels for migration into Europe, including for low-skilled labour and family reunification”.

Ireland has offered to resettle 300 refugees as part of the EU’s migrant programme.

Naval Service flagship

The State has also deployed the Naval Service flagship LÉ Eithne to the Mediterranean and it rescued more than 600 people in the space of two days late last week as part of a mission with the Italian government.

Prof O’Flaherty said that one of the largest displacements of people in the world was currently in Syria, with many suffering from starvation and lack of water.

He said that a focus on the destruction of culture and heritage – as in fears over the future of the world heritage site at Palmyra, following the Islamic State conquest of the city – should not distract attention from the main crisis which was about “people, not ruins”.

Galway’s Palmyra Park is named after the historic Syrian city, and Galway still has evidence of its own experience of cultural destruction, such as the beheading of statues by Oliver Cromwell’s troops in the Collegiate Church of St Nicholas, he noted.

“We have so many examples – the Khmer Rouge took the same approach in Cambodia from 1975 when their troops tried to destroy Buddhist statues at Angkor Wat,” Prof O’Flaherty said.

“It follows the same pattern and is no less acceptable in one age than in another,” he said. “Destruction of culture and heritage which is familiar to us incurs a sense of outrage, but we cannot let this perspective close our eyes to the human suffering,”he said.

UN Special Rapporteur for cultural rights Farida Shaheed is due to open a summer school on arts and human rights, which Prof O’Flaherty’s Irish Centre for Human Rights is co-hosting with Limerick’s Hunt Museum at NUIG from July 9th-11th.

As part of the event, the 1949 Unesco photographic exhibition illustrating the then recently adopted Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be mounted in the Collegiate Church of St Nicholas.

A new Galway International Human Rights photographic competition, which will display winning images alongside the 1949 exhibition, is currently open for entries until June 10th.

More details at:

http://conference.ie/Conferences/index.asp?Conference=418

https://www.talenthouse.com/i/photograph-for-the-hunt-museum-and-irish-centre-for-human-rights