REFUGEES AND RACISM

 

Sir, - In his letter of June 5th, Dr M. H. Al Sader says that he is disgusted with the "closet racism" of recent letters regarding refugee issues. As the terms he found offensive were used exclusively in my letter of May 23rd, I would be grateful for the opportunity to express more clearly my opinion. I hope I can point out what I see as a major failing in the present political asylum policy without being branded a racist.

The present system caters solely for those who can enter the country and claim political asylum, whether they are genuine refugees or not. All are given an opportunity to present their case for refugee status, and access to welfare benefits. Surely credence must be given to the recent statement by the Rumanian Ambassador that many were not fleeing persecution but were attracted by the prospect of relatively generous welfare payments.

This system makes no allowance for genuine refugees who are unable to enter the country. How many Karen refugees (an ethnic minority in Burma, persecuted for decades) who recently fled to Thailand will make it here to claim political asylum? How many Cambodians fleeing Khmer Rouge atrocities made it to Ireland to claim asylum? Many refugees spend years in malaria infested camps waiting for resettlement in the West.

I believe that these unfortunates have a greater claim to refugee status than many recent arrivals in this country. Only the very naive could refuse to accept that the present system is being abused. Why not adopt a system (used by Australia) whereby the State sets a quota for refugee intake every year and plans accordingly? The UN High Commission for Refugees could provide the State with details of those in greatest need of resettlement. The present system could be retained, but with a tougher screening process at ports/ airports to deter bogus asylum seekers.

In a recent article on refugee issues in this paper, the commentator noted that Ireland may need immigration to fill vacancies in low wage industries in the near future. As a returned emigrant it would be hypocritical of me to object to immigrants, but immigration policy and refugee policy are separate issues and should be kept that way. By having distinct immigration and refugee policies the State can justifiably restrict/stop immigration during an economic slowdown, while still maintaining a fair refugee intake.

Undoubtedly Ireland can benefit from a controlled intake of refugees and immigrants, but there are costs involved also. I believe it is disingenuous of refugee agencies to suggest that everyone who finds fault with the present asylum system is a racist. Yours, etc.,

Thurles,

Co Tipperary.