State must plan for new arrivals’ long-term future

Lessons from the past should inform the Government’s approach to crisis

The sun rise behind a migrants’ make-shift camp near Roszke village on the Hungarian-Serbian border. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The sun rise behind a migrants’ make-shift camp near Roszke village on the Hungarian-Serbian border. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

Ireland has had a mixed record on accommodating refugees. When Hungarians refugees arrived in 1956, they were put in the rickety Knockalisheen Army camp in Co Limerick, where they roughed it out for three years with minimal support. When the chance came, most went to the UK, Germany and Canada.

There were similarly mixed results with later programme refugee schemes, all of which offered a pathway to citizenship after two years. The overwhelming majority of Chileans who arrived in the 1970s returned home when it was safe. A quarter of a century later, those who arrived in the Kosovo conflict in the late 1990s also drifted home. Only about 100 of more than 1,000 settled in Ireland.

The schemes involving programme refugees from Vietnam in the 1970s and those from Bosnia in the mid 1990s were more successful. Over 1,500 Vietnamese settled permanently in Ireland. They arrived four decades ago when returning to the other side of the world was not an easy option. A similar number of Bosnian refugees remain in Ireland.

Numbers game

Syria

It has become a bit of a numbers game this week, with Tánaiste Joan Burton saying on Monday she expected Ireland to take at least 5,000. Those close to her said her estimates were based on her own experience and past expertise in humanitarian aid and relief.

This put Fine Gael under pressure to show its hand, with Ministers being asked to quantify their upper limits. They did not do so, saying no decision had been reached and that the eventual number Ireland accepted depended on decisions in Brussels and Luxembourg.

So as of now, Fine Gael’s commitment remains at 1,800, a figure based on the EU agreeing to 120,000 overall in the next week. That’s a good deal short of 5,000 and might make the party seem mean-spirited compared to its junior partner.

Stepping up

Labour

It’s clear there was what might be politely described as “dialogue” between both parties in the past 24 hours.

At the same time, there has been some row-back by Labour on numbers. That was summarised by Burton herself yesterday: “It is not a numbers game, it is about Ireland stepping up to meet an enormous humanitarian crisis.”

The official line now is that Ireland will be more than generous and take as many refugees from Syria and Eritrea as has been asked. In that scenario, though, the EU would have to commit to take in 335,000 refugees for that 5,000 figure to be reached.

Six hundred is too low. And there is a political imperative for the Government to be generous. But getting involved in a numbers auction is fatuous. As previous experiences have shown, if a large number of refugees is taken in without a properly funded and planned programme, it will not do the recipients much good in the long term.

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