Irish President: EU Leaders must make the case to protect refugees and asylum-seekers

03 July 2015

EU leaders must make the case to their electorates for the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers , the Irish President Michael D Higgins has said. 

Speaking at the Irish Humanitarian Summit 2015 in Dublin on June 2nd, President Higgins called for courageous and far sighted leadership to deal with the current humanitarian crisis, which has forcibly displaced a record 59.5 million people around the world as a result of persecution, conflict, generalised violence and human rights violations. 

“The alternative is to choose short-term and short-sighted responses based on a narrow sense of national self-interest – a choice that would be, for humanity in general and our shared future, nothing short of disastrous.” 

Recalling Europe’s own history, he said that building new futures relied on remembering our own past.

“One of the great dangers of forgetting our own past is that we can have a false sense of security about the present, or come to view contemporary differences between us and others as essential rather than determined or made contingent by events or unaccountable forces. We have all shared a troubled history, and our systems and standards of protection were put in place at the mid-point of a troubled century when many European nations witnessed enormous destruction and displacement.
We must reject then any exceptionalism, which would seek to define the current crisis as being unprecedented or beyond our capacity.”

Praising the Irish Naval Vessel LE Eithne, which has rescued over 2,000 people since being deployed to the Meditteranean in May 2015, President Higgins said that the scale of drowning witnessed demands emergency action.

“The numbers of lives which have been lost on Europe’s southern and eastern borders have been truly shocking, and we must recognise that this is a human and not a natural phenomenon. In all regions, this present increased level of displacement has specific causes. In Africa and in the Middle East too, we are seeing great levels of displacement, prompted by war and conflict and by catastrophic failures of politics and of development strategies.

Conflict in Libya and neighbouring African countries continues to push migrants into boats on the Mediterranean, while the conflict in Syria continues to push refugees across the borders into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. More than half (53%) of all refugees worldwide, as recognised by the UNHCR, came from just three countries: Syria (3.88 million), Afghanistan (2.59 million), and Somalia (1.11 million).

This current migration crisis is not solely or even predominantly, a European problem. Many of those displaced will go on to seek protection in Europe, but most will stay in neighbouring states where, we must never forget, the great majority of the world’s refugees are to be found.

The leading host countries for refugees are not the most developed states but those neighbours who receive grossly inadequate support. At the end of 2014, Turkey hosted 1.59 million refugees, Pakistan 1.51 million, Lebanon (a country with a total population of less than 4.5 million) hosted 1.15 million, Iran 982,000, Ethiopia 659,500, Jordan 654,100.

Given this reality, we must interrogate how so much of our discourse has focused on questions of security and border control, on alleged “pull factors”, to the neglect of the reality of the conditions from which people are leaving and the conditions where they subsequently find themselves.”

To read the full speech, please go to:

http://www.president.ie/en/media-library/speeches/keynote-at-the-irish-humanitarian-summit

 

Image: President Higgins speaking at UCD. Credit: Colm Hand, RTE @ColmHand

 

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