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'We cry about the Magdalene laundries but throw refugees into rat infested holiday camps'

‘Ireland loves nothing more than to toot its own horn as a saintly global peacemaker.’

Aaron McKenna

THERE IS A small minded and petty streak of selfishness that runs through a certain mass of people in Ireland. We exalt ourselves as a people and proclaim our grá, the great spirit of openness that’s Irishness itself. We have a victim complex that runs deep from famine and Empire, and proclaim our solidarity with and understanding for those with nothing. But when push comes to shove, there’s a pettiness to our behaviour at times and a willingness to pander to the lowest common denominator of misers and begrudgery.

We whinge and cry about industrial schools and Magdalene laundries, and then shove refugees into rat infested former holiday camps and refuse to speedily deal with their situation one way or another. The Irish overstaying their visas in America are “undocumented”, but people coming here from war torn countries are “illegal economic migrants”.

Every Irish child learns about the coffin ships that starving people were forced to flee the country on. When refugees die in the hold of a ship crossing the Mediterranean, there’s plenty of folks lining up to say, “Well, that was their poor choice.” We take it for granted that North America was the place to go when Trevelyan wouldn’t feed us. The first scathing question asked about refugees heading for Europe is, “Why don’t they go to Saudi Arabia?”

Hungary Migrants Migrants queue for a food donation out of a car coming over from Wuppertal, Germany Source: AP/Press Association Images

A saintly global peacemaker

The misers and the begrudgers; the whataboutery merchants and those willing to pander to them sicken me. They sicken me as an Irish person, who has grown up in a nation that loves nothing more than to toot its own horn as a saintly global peacemaker. They sicken me as a human being, who believes that we will be judged – or must, ultimately, judge ourselves – on the role we play to improve the lives of our fellows.

To continue a thought first professed by Robert Kennedy in South Africa in 1966, “there is discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere.

“These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility towards the suffering of our fellows. But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfilment they can.”

It’s our duty to help

The refugee crisis underway is the fault of many things. The imprudent actions of global superpowers, the callous acts of evil fundamentalists, the dithering of incompetent governments. Blame will save not one life. The crisis will not be solved by population resettlement alone, anyone can tell you that. But in the here and the now, these people are coming and it is our duty to help them until such a time as a lasting solution is found.

Mediterranean migrant crisis Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Begrudging refugees for fleeing to Europe is like begrudging the sun for rising. We live in the richest part of the world. For as long as there have been people, they have gravitated towards wealth and safety and prosperity from where there is none. We have problems, but they are of a different nature to the immediate and life threatening ones facing refugees.

It is easy to be the people in the high towers and ask why, for example, refugees want to make it to Germany when they’ve made it to, say, Turkey or Hungary? The deliberate blinkers put on by people sitting here in their relatively comfortable surrounds, questioning every decision made by refugees, speaks to the boundless pettiness of some people. You hop off a train in Hungary there and get a baton to the face from the local quasi-fascist regime and let me know how you settle in.

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Hungary Migrants A woman, part of a group of asylum seekers, shouts, as they stand behind a fence next to a train that was stopped Thursday in Bicske, Hungary Source: AP/Press Association Images

Human decency 

Panacea solutions are the next refuge for people looking to shirk our responsibilities. Let’s build a big border on the African and Middle Eastern side of the Mediterranean. We’ll process all the refugees in big camps. And presumably defend the camps and police them. For an indefinite period of time, we will create a Europe outside Europe to house those trying to reach Europe. Mosney will look like, well, a holiday camp compared to it. But better that than we will try and house people here, coming with their incompatible cultures (as the Department of Justice used to say about refugees in the late 1930s.)

It is our responsibility to respond to this crisis and fix it, not because we created it. It is our responsibility to fix it, because we can try. We must try, because we can. It’s as simple as that. With a concerted effort and the dedication of resources we Europeans and our first world partners can take the variety of steps, over a long period of time, required to solve this problem. We didn’t start the Syrian Civil War, certainly not in Ireland. But as decent human beings it is our duty to help those affected by it and other conflicts.

I believe that multicultural assimilation is difficult, and not always ideal. I believe that we should not permanently house everyone who comes to us from abroad. I do not believe in open borders forever. But I do believe in basic human decency, and meeting people fleeing other lands with the benefit of the doubt and open arms. What must they think of us, if the first thing they meet when they get to these lands of peace and plenty is a closed fist and then turned backs? What must we think of ourselves?

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and columnist for TheJournal.ie. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Read: Dublin won’t save rural Ireland, it needs to grow up and be allowed to save itself>

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