On Wednesday the 7th of October; YFG International held a panel discussion on the ongoing refugee crisis with Hugh O’Connell, political editor of thejournal.ie, Alan Shatter TD, former Minister for Justice and Defence, and Jody Clarke, External Relations Associate for the UNHCR.
In light of this, YFG International have put the following together outlining the main points from the discussion and further information for circulation to wider YFG membership in a three question report.
- Who is crossing?
The first notable aspect from the evening’s discussion was that this is a refugee crisis, not a migrant crisis. There is no denying that the majority of the people coming to Europe are fleeing conflict zones with no other choice and are therefore asylum seekers who are deemed refugees in developed countries like Ireland. The UNHCR estimates that 85% of those who have fled to Europe are refugees while 92% of the people who have fled to Greece are from three countries; Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The difference in title for these people is significant because refugees and migrants are treated differently in terms of international law and the responsibilities that are due to them. The key difference between the two terms is that the decision taken by a migrant to migrate is taken with personal convenience and without intervention of an external compelling factor. A refugee on the other hand is protected under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which guarantees that those who can’t remain in their home country because it’s too dangerous are provided with international protection in accordance with the United Nations.
- Why are they crossing?
The refugees are making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean and by foot to Europe because of the deteriorating conditions in their country of origin. Quite simply, they don’t have any other option. In the Syrian situation, the source of this mass movement of people stems from the Civil War in 2011. With 7.6 million people having been displaced in Syria since the commencement of the conflict, a further 4.5 million have left Syria. The hope that existed in the refugee camps in neighbouring countries that they would be able to return to their homes has now evaporated as the country finds itself at the mercy of ISIS and increasing levels of violence. No credible opposition exists and the international community is unable to contain the violence let alone combat it.
- What has the response been from the EU and specifically Ireland so far?
So far the international response has been inadequate. A resettlement plan from the EU for 160,000 refugees is a step in the right direction but not good enough. The expected figure is closer to 5-6 hundred thousand. A united European response is needed because countries like Greece and Hungary are not able to handle the influxes of refugees. A Common Asylum Policy is urgently required because the Dublin Convention is no longer effective in its aims. The debate currently places numbers as the core issue and continuing in this manner is not going to yield the response we want. Europe’s ability to provide homes, support, jobs and education should be the consideration at the centre of the discussion because this is a humanitarian crisis. Furthermore, financial support for countries like Lebanon and Jordan needs strong consideration as they are currently experiencing unprecedented strains on resources like schools and space. The Irish response has seen an outpouring of solidarity with the refugees with 6000 offers of beds on uplift.ie and 80,000€ raised by one charity in Cork as they travel to Calais to offer support on the ground. The Irish response has also highlighted the general absence of xenophobia in our press, in the government and the opposition.
This crisis has the ability to become the greatest humanitarian crisis ever as there is currently no end in sight for the migration of people from the aforementioned conflict zones. Above all, the international community needs to come together with a peace plan for Syria because history will not look back fondly if we fail humanity.