Mediterranean refugees: send me your poor....but not yet

Ireland has a sorry record of implementing commitments on refugee relocations

Of course there are good reasons why this State has yet to take any refugees from the thousands in Italy’s teeming, crowded camps. In this case, apparently, disagreements with the Italians over security vetting for the 700 asylum seekers that Ireland has promised to relocate. Although, apparently, we have done a deal on the issue with the Greeks and managed to take in some 459 from there. But there are always good reasons, and who would expect our notoriously foot-dragging Department of Justice to lead the charge in enabling resettlements?

The fact remains that, for whatever good reason, Ireland’s record implementing its binding commitments on relocations is sorry compared to the majority of our European partners. Some 18,418 asylum seekers have been relocated to date – albeit still far short of the 160,000 who have been promised homes around the EU.

Of course our record is better than those of Austria, Hungary and Poland which have admitted no refugees yet – the latter two on principle, claiming they represent a threat to their Christian civilisation. The Austrians promise to take 50.

When Ireland agreed in 2015 to do its bit to ease the burden on Italy and Greece at the height of the Mediterranean refugee crisis, it promised to take in some 2,600 migrants by September this year. The pace of resettlements needs to be stepped up and if a deal with the Italians is not possible, increased numbers from Greece can make up the inevitable shortfall. These are real people, suffering in miserable conditions. Excuses are simply not acceptable.


Under a separate resettlement scheme mainly in Lebanon and Jordan, Ireland promised to take in 1,040 individuals by the end of 2017. The State is on track to fulfil that pledge ahead of schedule.

Meanwhile, the desperate flow continues. More than 5,000 people have already crossed to the Greek islands alone this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration. Dozens have drowned. And the EU border agency, Frontex, said this week that in April nearly 13,000 people disembarked in Italy.

There is much talk in the EU about the fundamental value of solidarity as a cornerstone of the union. It is not, it should be noted, solidarity with the desperate migrants who land up on our shores of which we speak. But solidarity with each other, a sharing of burdens, as those better able to give a helping hand to those in difficulty. A helping hand that lifted Ireland from among the poorest to among the richest member states. A helping hand that has poured billions, and continues to pour billions into the countries that emerged from Stalinist dictatorship to allow their farmers and their industries to compete.

As the EU begins to contemplate its post-Brexit budgets and future, Poland and Hungary should understand that solidarity is a two-way street.