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Migrant crisis: Burton expects Ireland will accept 5,000 refugees

New figure appears to have come from Labour Party without Government agreement

Tánaiste Joan Burton: “We have to respond as human beings to the biggest crisis that has faced Europe.”

Tánaiste Joan Burton has said she would like to see Ireland accept as many 5,000 people mainly from Syria and Eritrea as programme refugees.

The figure mentioned by the Labour leader is a big jump from the 600 refugees already agreed by Ireland as part of a European Union wide programme to accept 40,000 who have already arrived on its borders having fled the war-torn regions.

On Friday, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said she would expect the Government to agree to take additional refugees as part of wider commitment by the EU and suggested it might be done on a pro rata basis.

She instanced a scenario where if the EU was willing to triple the numbers to 120,000 there would be a corresponding increase from 600 to 1,800 at least in the number of refugees being accepted into Ireland.

However, the new figure of up to 5,000 mentioned by the Tánaiste today seems to have come from the Labour Party and has neither been discussed nor agreed by Government as yet.

Asked on RTÉ Radio’s ‘News at One’ was there an upper limit on the number of refugees Ireland would be willing to take, Ms Burton said: “I would have thought in the case of Ireland we would be talking, over a period of time, up to 5,000 people.”

She did not specify what period of time might be involved or if the number included family members who would be entitled to follow refugees to Ireland under family reunification rights.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms Fitzgerald said that no figure has yet been agreed over and above of 600 which forms part of the earlier agreement. She said EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker will be making an address on the issue on Wednesday and the issue will also be addressed at the emergency meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers in Luxembourg on Monday. At that stage, she said, the new commitments on numbers by the EU would become clear.

Ms Fitzgerald said that Ireland would be prepared to play a full part and be “proactive” and compassionate in the face of a major international crisis. However, she made clear that no number, including that suggested by the Tánaiste, had been agreed as yet.

She also that she would be bringing a memorandum to Cabinet tomorrow setting out the measures that will be taken to implement the decision, and accommodate the refugees coming in, both in the short term and over a longer period.

She said the process of gaining refugee status was an accelerated one and the focus would be on ensuring that they had integrated accommodation, rather than in designated centres.

The programme needed to be supervised and sustainable, she said. She acknowledged that coming up with suitable accommodation options would be difficult but said that all options will be examined, including the over 8,000 voluntary offers of accommodation that have been made by members of the public.

When it was put to her that 600 to 5,000 was a big jump, Ms Burton responded: “We have to respond as human beings to the biggest crisis that has faced Europe. ”