Challenges created by the arrival of refugees to a country should not be framed as threats to our way of life but rather as an opportunity, a United Nations official has said during a visit to Dublin.
Volker Türk, a senior official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said society needs to move away from seeing the refugee situation as an unmanageable crisis that we react to in defensive, disjointed, destructive and short-term ways.
“Instead we must move towards understanding and responding to [refugee crises] as phenomena that we can not only manage, but also learn and benefit from over the longer term if we take steps towards promoting the economic and social inclusion” of refugees, he said.
Mr Türk, the assistant high commissioner for protection, was speaking at the Institute for International and European Affairs in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that the absolute ban on people in direct provision from working was “in principle” unconstitutional. The Government is considering the implications of the decision.
He said refugees and displaced people need greater access to employment and education, better asylum processing and family reunification programmes. This, he said, was because traditional solutions such as voluntary repatriation and resettlement were not working and displaced people need systems to be put in place that returned some sense of normality to their lives.
Mr Türk said Ireland knew well what was meant by flight and migration and was famous for its international engagement.
Ireland was “receiving 520 refugees each year through its resettlement programme and providing opportunities for some of the most vulnerable refugees to be resettled out of precarious situations into lives where they can envision a future for themselves and their families.”
Refugees bring home in the most visceral and compelling way what is happening in the world and remind us that our lives are deeply interconnected, he said.
There are 65.3 million displaced people in the world, of which 21.3 million are refugees. The displacement is primarily occurring in regions beset by violence and conflict.
UNHCR proposals contained in the report Better Protecting Refugees in the EU and Globally advise stronger engagement beyond Europe’s borders to resolve conflicts, address the drivers of displacement and stabilise refugee situations in host countries, while also proposing internal approaches such as contingency planning, more efficient asylum processing, and other measures.
Mr Türk quoted Daniel O’Connell who, in the 19th century, said his sympathy with distress was not confined within the narrow bounds of his own green island. “My heart walks abroad, and wherever the miserable are to be succoured, or the slave to be set free, there my spirit is at home, and I delight to dwell there.”
It was with this spirit of compassion that we must take the opportunity to forge a different king of path in our support for refugees, he added.