Higgins voices concern over anti-refugee rhetoric

Crisis must be ‘understood, managed, facilitated’ to curb growth of anti-refugee groups

President Michael D Higgins  warned the refugee crisis must be ‘understood, managed and facilitated’ in order to curb the growth of extremist populist rhetoric from anti-refugee groups. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

President Michael D Higgins warned the refugee crisis must be ‘understood, managed and facilitated’ in order to curb the growth of extremist populist rhetoric from anti-refugee groups. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins


The next government must implement “rigorous, fair, adequate and competent procedures” in its commitment to welcome 4,000 refugees and migrants to Ireland to ensure their integration into Irish society, according to President Michael D Higgins.

Speaking ahead of the 2016 summit on the Sustainable Development Goals hosted by Dóchas on Thursday, he warned the refugee crisis must be “understood, managed and facilitated” in order to curb the growth of extremist populist rhetoric from anti-refugee groups.

“The European response [to the refugee crisis] has been disappointing,” the President told The Irish Times. “After all, one is talking about a total volume of refugees that is about 1.5 million. You’ve only really to contrast those ratios with countries like the Lebanon or Jordan or those poor islands in Greece.

“You have to accept that there is a huge volume of migration taking place. We, as a country that had out-migration flows for so much of our history, should be sensitive to that.”

The president spoke of the “huge connection” between climate change, the refugee crisis and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which were agreed on in September 2015.

The 17 global goals, which replaced the Millennium Development Goals, are designed to end extreme poverty, fight inequality, and combat climate change by 2030.

“Migratory flows need to be understood, managed and facilitated,” said Mr Higgins. “That way you anticipate any false fears or abuses that are encouraged by ill-informed populist groups who… are seeking to recall old prejudices.”

He said the rise of right-wing populist groups across Europe stemmed from a “manipulation of fear and insecurity. It is in settings where you have failures of inclusion… If you have an absence, not just of economic opportunities but of education and opportunities of access, social cohesion will give way.”

Any attempts to end the refugee crisis must begin at the source of the problem through conflict resolution, said the president. Those nations taking “the greater brunt” of the crisis, which are located immediately adjacent to areas from where people are fleeing, must also be offered adequate finance and support, he added.

Mr Higgins highlighted the need for the ongoing Government negotiations to take into account the findings and recommendations which emerged from retired High Court judge, Dr Bryan McMahon’s report into the experience of people already seeking asylum in Ireland through the direct provision system. Dr McMahon said last month he was “disappointed” that the recommendations of the report, which was published 10 months ago, had not been implemented

“We’ve waited quite a while now for a response to his proposals,” said Mr Higgins. “If you have rigorous, fair, adequate and competent procedures, you’re in a better position to receive those numbers [of refugees] we’re talking about.”

The President commended Ireland’s record of development support through the work of peacekeepers, aid agencies, volunteers and diplomats, but called for greater understanding and support from all government departments in the implementation of the State’s foreign policy work.

“Ireland is a small country but has a great record to draw on. We need integration between our policies from the lead documents from foreign affairs and other departments of state. We need transparency, we need consistency and we need to break away into new things.”

On the issue of climate change and the Paris agreement, the president said Irish people would not automatically evolve into sustainable living, and needed strong political leadership from the next Government to lead the way in demanding a “deliverable set of actions of sustainable development”.

“If we accept after Paris that the science is no longer refuted… we cannot continue the way that we are. It is a case of whether we’re going to choose to change or have the catastrophe and change imposed upon us.

Mr Higgins says the challenge of climate change cannot be overcome if nations continue to follow the “existing paradigms of international economics. Look at the changes in paradigms that have taken place in physics. You ask, why can’t we have that change in our models of economics?”

This [climate change] is the challenge of our generation - a chance to give future generations the space to live differently and better, with a better connection between ecology and economics and ethics.”

What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the 2030 Agenda, are a set of universal goals which replaced the Millennium Development Goals. They are designed to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice and combat climate change by 2030.

193 world leaders committed to the 17 goals and 169 subsidiary targets in September 2015.

Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs are seen as universal and apply to all countries.

David Donoghue, Ireland’s permanent representative to the UN chaired the negotiations for the global goals with Macharia Kamau, Kenya’s representative to the UN.

The 2030 goals are not legally binding which means the United Nation’s role in their implementation is that of a facilitator rather than enforcer.

Implementation of the Global goals formally began on January 1st, 2016.

The 17 goals include an end to poverty in all its forms, an end to hunger, achieving gender equality for all women and girls, reducing inequality within and among countries, and promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth.