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'There's a lot of hidden antipathy towards helping immigrants'

Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan on how more empathy and an overhaul of the refugee system can see Ireland take in more migrants.

Image: Darko Vojinovic

FEWER THAN 600 refugees have come to Ireland since the Government promised to take in 4,000 last year.

It’s been 13 months since Enda Kenny pledged to provide a safe-haven to those fleeing persecution and a war which is leaving vast swathes of Iraq and Syria in rubble.

That works out at 31 people a month entering the country every month.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, addressing the Dáil on Wednesday, said circumstances out of his control had slowed the process.

He told the house: “Taking migrants that have already arrived in Greece and Italy, progress has been slow, as it has for all partners, for a variety of reasons outside of our control.

“There are arrangements in place for more people to start coming here and it is expected that, by the end of 2016, Ireland will have accepted up to 400 people through the relocation pledge.”

Kenny also said Ireland had accepted 500 immigrants, mostly from Lebanon, since the EU pledge was made in September 2015.

Pledge

Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan has been one of the most outspoken members of Government on the migrant crisis.

While he admits the rate at which people are coming into Ireland has slowed, he said he wants to see Ireland welcoming these migrants and not become a country where razor-wire is placed along borders, such as what is happening in Eastern Europe.

Serbia Migrants A woman walks by a border fence in the makeshift refugee camp near the Horgos border crossing into Hungary. Source: Darko Vojinovic/PA

In a wide-ranging interview with TheJournal.ie, Durkan said: “In my view, it’s easy enough. You treat people the way we want to be treated, with courtesy.

“There’s a hard edge coming into migration policies at this moment in time. This manifests itself in Eastern Europe and the EU and its reaction to refugees.

“These people are running away from something.

It’s not from health and happiness and good fortune they are trying to escape.

“There’s an obligation on all of us to be able to respond in a meaningful way.”

Durkan, who was chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs, also believes there is a way of dealing with right-wing extremist groups such as Pegida.

6/2/2016. Pegida Group in Ireland Garda Public Order unit engage with anti racist protesters who attacked a group of suspected Pegida Ireland supporters Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

He believes if their real fears are that the immigrants could be dangerous criminals, a system which cracks down on human trafficking should allay those concerns.

He added: “What we have to recognise is this; we have to have a regime in place which is friendly and fair.

“We need a universal policy which is fair and is prepared to accommodate a number of migrants. But for whatever reason there hasn’t been that capacity to ensure their cases are examined properly.

“We don’t want to import people who are hell-bent on criminal activity. There is less chance of getting people like that when you have a proper system and don’t have a rush of migrants from all corners.

“If you don’t allow the traffickers to do what they’re doing, then you’re not going to have people who have not been registered and who have not gone through the proper channels.

“So if you set up the system right, the traffickers won’t be as successful.”

bernard durkan Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan Source: Fine Gael

Durkan has been campaigning on this issue since ISIS’ stranglehold on the Middle East began to tighten four years ago.

He had previously been involved in helping Rwandan refugees who came to Ireland after the African nation’s genocide in the 90s.

Decency and compassion, he says, is the way to deal with people escaping their own living hells.

He added: “To say: ‘You can’t come here because there’s too many of you and not enough of us’ is not good enough.

There’s a lot of hidden antipathy towards helping immigrants

“You get the odd outburst and we have reports of racism and intimidation. You have to remember where they’re coming from.”

Mediterranean migrant crisis Migrants and refugees on a boat approaching the Greek island of Kos Source: PA Wire/PA Images

“You have people who are escaping constant rape, constant war, constant pillage, constant terrorism and a constant denial of their human and civil rights. You can’t expect people to put up with that forever.

“We have to do more than put up more razor wire or building a wall like they want to do in the US. There’s an obligation on society. People want to get away from oppression. I don’t blame them.”

In a rare consensus, there has been cross-party support from across the aisles of Dáil Éireann with regards to the migrant crisis.

Sinn Féin, although calling on the Government to do more, has taken a similar line to Fine Gael, noting that migrants need to be settled here and that this must happen in a way which safeguards both the Irish people and those coming here.

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