Shutting borders to refugees will worsen problems - Dóchas chair

Growing fear over refugees from the Middle East comes from ‘a lack of understanding’

Migrants at Malakassa refugee camp, some 50km north of Athens, where about 700 refugees, mainly from Afghanistan, await their fate. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

Closing borders and turning away refugees will cause bigger problems for countries long-term, the chair of Ireland’s NGO association Dóchas has said.

Growth in a focus on nationalism-related or security concerns "rather than on development and inclusivity is actually going to cause more difficulties in the longer run", Sharan Kelly, chairperson of Dóchas, said on Friday at the organisation's annual conference.

Speaking at the gathering of the umbrella association of Irish non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and overseas aid and development organisations, she said the growing fear or hesitation regarding refugees coming from the Middle East comes from “a lack of understanding”.

Borders being closed

"In Europe, where some borders are being closed, the number of refugees overall that have moved into Europe is only 6 per cent of the total number - the majority of the refugees are actually in Jordan and Lebanon, " Ms Kelly said.


Countries should focus on investing in ways to integrate and include refugees and asylum-seekers in society, the chair of the aid group said.

Ireland could for its part be doing more in the refugee crisis, she continued. "There's always plenty more to do, I think it's about putting the structures and systems in place, ready for bringing people into the country where they don't know the country or don't know the language.

“I think that’s where it’s for the Department of Justice to do more on and really address the issue.”

European framework

Ireland has agreed to accommodate 4,000 refugees from the Mediterranean under an agreed European framework set out in 2015. The most recent figures from the Department of Justice show 1,192 refugees have been accepted under the programme to date.

The estimated death toll of refugees who have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean to come to Europe for the year so far is 1,344 as of May 2017. The figures are monitored and compiled by the UN Human Rights Council.

The keynote speaker at the Dóchas conference was former international executive director of the Greenpeace environmentalist lobby, Kumi Naidoo.

Mr Naidoo said NGOs, human rights groups and environmentalists need to change their strategies in the wake of Brexit and the election of President Donald Trump.

What is our culpability?

“It’s easy in the US to blame the Republicans, but what was the responsibility and failure of those parties that claimed to be more liberal, more people-friendly, who want to address poverty? What is our culpability for how things got this way?” he said.

Mr Naidoo, who is directing African Rising, a project promoting justice and peace across 30 countries in Africa, said progressive politicians and campaign groups need to find a better way to combat fake news.

The rising trend in challenging previously accepted facts and evidence in areas such as climate change is of concern, he stated. Some people, he said, “are suffering from a terrible case of ‘cognitive dissonance’. By cognitive dissonance, I mean when all the facts are there and you refuse to actually act with the urgency that those facts ask you to.

“Today we are talking about needing a massive transition of an economy that is driven by fossil fuel-based energy to an economy that is driven by clean, green, renewable energy. Our current strategy of tinkering around the edges is like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic while it is sinking.

“This struggle is about whether humanity can fashion a new way to exist in an interdependent way with the Earth to ensure our children’s future,” he added.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times