President Michael D Higgins calls for action over refugee crisis in Ethiopia

Higgins praised heroic work of Irish NGOs in the region

President Michael D Higgins has called for urgent action by the international community to alleviate disaster in the growing refugee crisis confronting Ethiopia along its borders with South Sudan.

Speaking in searing heat at a refugee camp run in Ethiopia's Gambella province by Goal, Mr Higgins said that as "a head of state" he was addressing himself to "those who are well aware of what has happened here . . . the international community". Ethiopia, with its open borders, now has more than 650,000 refugees, with 190,000 in Gambella.

Overstretched camps

If the conflict in South Sudan were to go on “the numbers coming into the already overstretched camps could be as high as an additional 100,000 people”.

Referring to the women and children seated beside him as he spoke, Mr Higgins said: “These are our fellow citizens and fellow children of the planet and I would appeal to Governments to honour their commitments . . . to increase their assistance to these camps.

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“We have the largest number of dispossessed people and refugees on our planet probably in human history.

“We have to decide that we will allow the people to live and to survive at least so that they can, ideally, go back to their countries as many want to do in conditions of peace. For which we also have a responsibility at a political level.

“The issues here are urgent. Feeding children on 80 cents a day and to be short of the 80 cents is a scandal to humanity.”

Quick decision

Mr Higgins said “a quick decision at all of the institutional levels” is needed. “I mean within weeks, by the [European] Commission and the [European] Council to make sure that not only is there a net increase in assistance but that it is delivered with logistical speed,” he said.

Mr Higgins praised the efforts of Irish non-governmental organisations in the area, which he said he would only describe as heroic.

Mr Higgins said he was proud of the Irish State assistance and in relation to Goal and Concern and the NGOs "who have stepped into the breach, the people of Ireland can be very, very proud".

Yesterday it was announced that the Government is to provide an additional €2 million in aid towards the deepening refugee crisis due to the conflict in South Sudan.

This brings total funding from Ireland to €8.5 million this year.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times