Responding to the refugee crisis

 

Sir, – With President Michael D Higgins this week hosting the visit of Greek president Prokopis Pavlopoulos, it is a timely opportunity to reassess the refugee crisis, the respective migration pledges of each country and, indeed, that of the European Union.

During his visit to Greece two years ago, Mr Higgins urged EU states to fulfil their refugee obligations, praising the host nation for the “generosity of their response to the plight of refugees, in offering shelter and a dignified future to so many”. He urged EU member states to ensure Greece did not shoulder this crisis disproportionately.

Sadly, the tragedy of Syria continues. In the past month alone, 300,000 people have fled violence in Idlib. Approximately 80 per cent of those fleeing are women and children, including many who had already been displaced by the conflict in Syria, which is now entering its tenth year.

Greece continues to carry much of the load for the EU from the resulting refugee crisis. According to Human Rights Watch, as of last month, the Moria Reception and Identification Centre on Lesbos island was holding nearly 16,800 people in a facility with capacity for fewer than 3,000.

The policy that traps people on the Greek islands and prevents them from reaching the European mainland has caused a recurrent and endless cycle of overcrowding, substandard living conditions and extremely poor access to services. It has created tremendous pressure on Greece, leading to a dangerous decline in camp conditions, and exposed a lack of support from other EU countries.

While the number of asylum applications across Europe has dropped in recent years, the number of asylum applications filed in Greece has increased exponentially. This drastic containment policy is a direct result of the EU-Turkey deal.

UNHCR statistics show that only 16 per cent of refugees are hosted in developed regions while a third of the global refugee population resides in the least developed countries. In 2015, Ireland pledged to offer shelter to 4,000 Syrian refugees. As of last month, we have taken in only 3,151 people under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP). In spite of the challenges that we face in this country with housing, homelessness and health, Ireland is one of the richest countries in the world, per capita.

We should be doing far better for people fleeing conflict.

It is essential that we shoulder a fair share of the response to displacement. Ireland needs to play its part in showing human compassion, care and consideration for those forced to leave their homes. This goes to the heart of our identity as a nation that responds to suffering in an open, generous and humane manner. – Yours, etc,

CAOIMHE de BARRA,

Chief Executive,

Trócaire,

Maynooth,

Co Kildare.