Refugees are fleeing ‘shocking’ camp conditions, officials say

Immigration officer responds after discovery of girl (3) in the back of a lorry in Co Wexford

An  Afghan migrant waves from a van as he departs with six others from  France  for Britain. File photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

An Afghan migrant waves from a van as he departs with six others from France for Britain. File photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

 

The shocking living conditions in refugee camps is just one of the many reasons men, women and children are risking their lives by travelling to Britain and Ireland in shipping containers and lorries, according to campaigners.

On Sunday evening, a three-year-old girl was discovered in the back of a lorry in New Ross, Co Wexford.

The toddler had made the journey from Cherbourg in northern France enclosed in a dark, airless container with three men and one woman who declared themselves Iraqi Kurds.

The Kurdish people are an ethnic group who live in a mountainous region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia.

Kurds have spent decades fighting for autonomy in Turkey, while more recently Kurdish groups have played an important role in resisting the advance of Islamic State militants in the Middle East.

In reality, the five people who arrived in Wexford on Sunday may have travelled much further in the container than from France.

“The fact that the ship originated in northern France doesn’t mean the people got on there, they could have been in the container for a lot longer,” said Joe O’Brien, integration outreach officer at the Immigrant Council of Ireland.

“A lot of these refugees don’t have an awareness of where Ireland even is. The origin of their journey is many, many miles from here and the exact point of their arrival is rarely discussed, bar it being the EU.”

Those travelling from the refugee camps in Calais and Cherbourg in northern France are fleeing “shocking living conditions”, said Mr O’Brien.

He also said people need to pay attention to the images of war coming from Syria in news bulletin.

“I’m not saying this is where these people came from but it’s the general situation they’re leaving. Have a good look at your screens. Is it any wonder people are taking huge measures to save their lives?

“This case in Wexford is just a microcosm of the desperation that people are in and the risks they’re willing to take.”

Jody Clarke, from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said some people in Calais will take the risk of travelling in containers so they can join family in Britain and Ireland.

Meanwhile, many unaccompanied minors, especially young Afghans, are paying smugglers to transport them across Europe in containers, he said.

“Over half the unaccompanied minors that came to Europe last year were Afghans, but the relocation scheme from Greece only applies to Syrians and Eritreans,” said Mr Clarke.

“This gives them an incentive to pay a smuggler and take the risk of trafficking to get to another EU state.”

Resettling

The UNHCR is calling on European states to make greater efforts to resettle unaccompanied minors from refugee camps in France, Greece and Italy.

The Government announced earlier this week that Ireland would welcome four unaccompanied children from a camp in Greece, while 14 child refugees also arrived in the UK from a camp in Calais this week.

Mr O’Brien said the Government should consider Sunday’s incident “a wake-up call” in terms of its commitment to accept 4,000 refugees into the State by the end of 2017.

In September 2015, the Government pledged to accept 4,000 refugees from Italy and Greece through the EU’s relocation plan and from camps in Jordan and Lebanon through the UNHCR-led refugee resettlement programme.

However, the latest figures from the Department of Justice show that, under the relocation plan, Ireland has taken in just 69 Syrians from Greece.

The department estimates it will have accepted at least 360 people through the EU’s relocation system by the end of 2016.

The State has also admitted 500 refugees from camps in Lebanon and Jordan under the UNHCR-led programme and hopes to have resettled another 20 people by the end of the year.