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Syrian family laid to rest as Taoiseach says we can take in more refugees

“There’s got to be a clear plan and a clear strategy to help people who are so distressed by these events.”

Updated at 9.54pm

IRELAND WILL TAKE more than the current 600 refugees we have signed up for, with both the Taoiseach and Minister for Justice today indicating the figure could be 1,800.

Speaking to Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1, Minister Frances Fitzgerald said:

“The numbers are clearly going to increase, they have to increase to deal with the humanitarian crisis.

“It’s very hard to put a number on it, we want to respond in as humanitarian way as possible.

If the figure of 150,000 is put on the table, that will affectively mean a trebling of what we had committed to already. I believe that is a minimum of the response we will be making towards next week.

“If that figure is agreed at European level, that brings us to a figure of 1,800.”

Asked if that figure was a maximum, Minister Fitzgerald said, “I don’t believe it is.”

Enda Kenny also suggested the figure could be in excess of 1,800.

“There’s got to be a clear plan and a clear strategy to help people who are so distressed by these events,” the Taoiseach said of the latest EU proposals.

Buried at home

As promises to do more came from Irish leaders, the little boy who sparked the outrage and empathy that pushed them into action was buried in the Syrian town his family had fled.

Mideast Syria Migrants Family Drowns Abdullah Kurdi, the father of 3-year-old Syrian Kurdish boy Aylan Kurdi, carries the body of one of his sons during the funeral procession. Source: Sipan Ibrahim/AP

Aylan Kurdi, his 5-year-old brother and his mother all perished when their boat overturned off the coast of Turkey.

Turkey Migrants The coffins of mother Rehan Kurdi, and Syrian boys Aylan, 3, and Galip, 5, who were washed up drowned on a beach near Turkish resort of Bodrum. Source: Emrah Gurel/AP

Today their distraught father Abdullah Kurdi returned to the family’s hometown of Kobani to lay them all to rest.

‘No country can do it alone’

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called on the European Union to admit up to 200,000 refugees as part of a “mass relocation programme”.

In a statement Antonio Guterres said:

People who are found to have a valid protection claim…must then benefit from a mass relocation programme, with the mandatory participation of all EU member states.

His call came ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers to discuss the continent’s refugee crisis, of which Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body was found face down in the surf on a Turkish beach on Wednesday, has become a searing symbol.

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Referring to the pictures of the dead child, which “had stirred the hearts of the world public”, Guterres said: “Europe cannot go on responding to this crisis with a piecemeal or incremental approach.”

No country can do it alone, and no country can refuse to do its part.

UNICEF said that photos, like the one of Aylan Kurdi yesterday, will not be the last shocking image of this crisis to be seen.

“It is not enough for the world to be shocked by these images. Shock must be matched by action.”

Hungary

Source: Frank Augstein/AP/PA

In Budapest, hundreds of refugees began walking through the streets to make their way to Vienna on foot. They had decided to stop waiting around for permission to get on trains to Austria.

In striking scenes, over 1,200 people walked all day and night along the highway, sometimes disrupting traffic. Under pressure, the Hungarian government has now said it will sent a fleet of buses to the main Keleti train station and to the M1 hughway heading to Vienna.

Source: Frank Augstein/AP

“We are taking this step so Hungary’s transportation system is not paralysed during the next 24 hours,” Janos Lazar, chief of staff to Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.

The buses will take the people to the main crossing with Austria. However it is not clear whether refugees will trust authorities enough to get on the buses as many feel they were tricked when they got on a train earlier in the week, only to have it stopped by police who tried to bring them to camps.

Violence against refugees 

While many organisations issue appeals for help for the refugees, Amnesty International says its staff has witnessed violence against them by local people living on the Greek island of Kos.

Amnesty staff witnessed a group of 15-25 people brandishing bats physically attack refugees, while shouting “go back to your countries” and other slurs.

They also threatened activists, including an Amnesty International staff member. An activist who was taking photographs had her camera removed and suffered minor injuries.

“Last night’s violent attack once again throws into sharp relief the danger to them and activists who help them. Action must be taken now at all levels to ensure they are protected.”

Ireland’s position

Minister Fitzgerald added that there are resource issues and accommodation issues and that help from the EU won’t cover the entire cost.

When asked about concerns that some people may have as Ireland has ‘problems of its own’ and they may think ‘this is too much’, she said:

I can understand that and I have to say that when I initially stated the 600, a lot of people expressed concern to me about it.

“Now people are haunted by these images and they want the European Union to respond and provide a comprehensive response.”

The UNHCR believes the current crisis is not driven by economic migration. The vast majority – more than 85% – of those crossing the Mediterranean into Europe are refugees, not economic migrants.

Fitzgerald added that we already have 400 people in our direct provision that have to be taken into account:

“We have had a 50% increase already in asylum seekers coming to Ireland by various means this year.

We’re coming from a situation where there has been high levels of unemployment, but I think when you see what’s happening across the European Union, this is an issue of life and death.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News At One, Irish President Michael D Higgins said the figure of 200,000 is the figure Europe needs to be facing up and discussing now. 

He said the “Irish people have spoken” and from what he is hearing in communities, people are “anxious to make contribution”.

President Higgins said it was encouraging to see families gear up for action who are willing to help with this crisis.

Syria 

However, he said the issue that still needs to be dealt with is the situation and conflict in Syria, which is forcing these refugees to flee their homes.

The failure to deal with the conflict in Syria is an issue for the UN Security Council.

He pointed to those who are escalating the conflict in the country, by buying oil from terrorist groups, those supplying weapons and those benefiting from smugglers.

He also criticised the EU for their failure to reach an adequate figure of refugees that should be taken in by Europe and for not providing a regime that is implementable.

The Irish people recognise a humanitarian crisis when it is one and when it is staring them in the face. Our own people were in this situation historically.

Additional reporting by Christina Finn, Michelle Hennessy and AFP.

Read: Trucks, vans and cars: Irish aid convoy to help migrants prepares to set sail>

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