EU Migration and Refugee Crisis: Statements

I welcome the opportunity to address this important issue in the Dáil and look forward to hearing the contributions of Deputies. At a time when anti-immigration and anti-refugee sentiment has, unfortunately, been part of mainstream rhetoric in the international political and media debate, it matters that Ireland and this House stand by our tradition of supporting refugees. As a nation, we naturally empathise with people fleeing war and persecution who are seeking to find a safe haven for themselves and their families. We see them as human beings, not just numbers.

Europe is experiencing its greatest migration and refugee crisis since the aftermath of the Second World War. The tragedies in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas underscore the desperation which is causing people to undertake the perilous journey to Europe. As we can all see on an ongoing basis, this desperation is exploited gruesomely by people smugglers and human traffickers. Although the war in Syria has been the most immediate driver of new refugees into the European Union, this is in a context in which there are more than 60 million displaced persons globally. Ongoing crises in Eritrea and Mali and instability in other African regions, exacerbated by hunger, poverty and climate change, mean that the migration issue is likely to stay high on the international agenda for the foreseeable future.

I was honoured to participate in the Valletta Summit which brought leaders from the European Union and Africa together to address the migration challenges facing Africa. It is a very complex and challenging picture for that continent. The protection of human rights is a central element of the Valletta action plan. The state of play on implementation of the plan will be monitored regularly within the framework of the Africa-EU strategy, as well as within bilateral political dialogue among signatories to the plan. This will help to ensure that respect for human rights will continue to guide engagement with participating governments, including those of Eritrea and Sudan. The medium and long-term policies to address the root causes through development, conflict prevention and resolution are fully reflected and respected in the Valletta Declaration and action plan.

The European Union has taken concrete steps to address the crisis and that will have to continue. We can never really do enough. Recognising that no member state can face this task alone, Europe-wide solutions have been adopted in the spirit of solidarity and co-operation in which the European Union was founded. Measures have been adopted in support of Italy and Greece, the front-line states dealing with the issue, as we can see every day. They jointly received more than 1 million migrants and asylum seekers last year.

From the outset, Ireland has committed to playing its part. Recognising that we do not face the same migratory pressures as other member states, we voluntarily opted in to the two EU relocation decisions and have also pledged to admit 520 programme refugees under the EU resettlement programme. To co-ordinate our participation under these programmes, last September the Government established the Irish refugee protection programme, under which we have agreed to accept up to 4,000 persons overall under the EU relocation and resettlement programmes. This figure will, of course, increase through family reunifications. This is in addition to the applications for protection made within the State. Their number rose from 1,000 in 2013 to over three times that figure in 2015. In addition to our commitments under the relocation and resettlement programmes, we receive ongoing applications from those who come to this country to claim asylum.

I would like to update the House on both programmes and explain some of the complexities that have led to the current set of circumstances affecting Ireland. Under the EU resettlement programme, our pledge to admit 520 persons is progressing well. A total of 263 people have been admitted to date from Lebanon. We have just had another mission in Lebanon. We expect the individuals selected to arrive in Ireland in the next few months. We work very closely with the UNHCR. The national UNHCR-led resettlement programme is well established, having admitted more than 1,400 persons from 28 countries since its inception.

The EU relocation programme has proved to be more problematic, for a variety of reasons, as reflected in the pace at which people are coming to Ireland. The initial pace was very slow, but it is now beginning to accelerate. The scale of the EU programme which is to admit 160,000 over a two-year period is unprecedented. Challenges in the operation of the programme at EU level have centred on two issues: the complexity of establishing the “hotspot” locations in Greece and Italy; and misinformation being spread by the people smugglers who encourage migrants and asylum seekers not to co-operate with the registration process at the hotspots, thereby leading to dreadful results, as we saw even last week. Both factors are, unfortunately, beyond our control. Ireland and other countries are making every effort to co-operate with the Greek and Italian authorities.

Other countries have been facing the same issues in that migrants are simply moving through them, primarily to Germany and Sweden. They were not registering and, therefore, could not become part of the relocation programme and were not asking to be part of it. We are doing everything possible to give effect to the relocation decision, to which we opted in and committed some months ago. We have provided a number of experts to support implementation of the programme, both in Italy and Greece, and nominated liaison officers who have been working with the authorities in Italy and Greece.

We have committed to relocate more than 2,600 people by the end of next year. The first Syrian family has arrived and been given refugee status and is receiving our full support. As Deputies will be aware, the vast majority of people eligible for the programme will be entitled to refugee status, given that the vast majority are Syrian.

An additional 31 people have completed all checks, including security checks, and are expected to be relocated from Greece in the coming weeks. I realise that, in the light of the scale of the challenge, the numbers I am quoting are very low. I reiterate that the numbers to which Ireland has committed are proportional to those of other countries. It is a question of having the most effective scale and pace. The reasons for the slow start are not that we are putting up barriers in this country. We are not; it is quite the opposite. Since the refugees are not registering in either Italy or Greece, it has been very difficult to move on with the programme. This country and certainly my Department are prepared and ready to respond to the needs of the arrivals. The crisis has not affected Italy as much as it has Greece. There are many difficulties in getting the programmes established there.

Obviously, the issue of resettlement has come to the forefront of the debate in recent weeks following the political agreement reached by the EU Heads of State and Government with Turkey at the March European Council. The EU-Turkey statement outlines a number of clear action points for implementation. This is not a formal international agreement but rather an understanding of a package of arrangements to be introduced that will affect different states in different ways. For example, Ireland's only formal involvement will be in taking in a number of Syrians from Turkey.

I will not have time to discuss that matter in detail but Deputies will find further information in the speech I have circulated.

The EU-Turkey statement does not establish any new commitments on member states as far as the EU relocation and resettlement programmes are concerned. As I stated previously, a sufficient number of refugees have already been selected to fill the balance of our quota under the resettlement programme and are expected to arrive in three tranches between May and September of this year. We are working hard to expedite the relocation elements.

As I noted, Ireland has provided a number of international casework experts to the Greek islands to support the implementation of the agreement. We have also submitted nominations to the European Asylum Support Office for consideration for deployment to Greece to ensure the system in place there works better. Two individuals are currently on the Greek island of Lesbos where they will work under the auspices of the European Asylum Support Office.

We must recognise that Turkey is hosting more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees, a larger number than any other country. The facility for refugees agreed under the EU-Turkey action plan of November last will provide €3 billion in funding to support refugees in Turkey and will focus on meeting their immediate needs by providing food, health services and education. Ireland is contributing €22.9 million to this fund. The first projects under the facility were announced by the European Commission last month. These will provide access to formal education for Syrian children in Turkey and badly needed humanitarian aid through the World Food Programme, which will help to reach 735,000 Syrian refugees with food aid, an extraordinary number. The EU-Turkey statement commits additional funding of up to €3 billion to the facility for refugees if the original €3 billion is fully spent and all commitments under the agreement with Turkey are met.

The refugee crisis presents an extraordinary challenge at European and international level. We are concerned that the number of people who will be exploited by people smugglers as they seek to cross the Mediterranean Sea will increase in the summer months. We have proposed that the LE Róisín return to the Mediterranean to resume humanitarian missions in support of Italian navy rescue ships. Last year, the Naval Service rescued more than 8,000 migrants in the Mediterranean. We can be proud of its achievements in the face of such a serious challenge.

The unprecedented numbers of migrants and refugees fleeing war torn regions in the Middle East and north Africa present a serious humanitarian and political challenge to Europe. Ireland must play its part in assisting those in need of refuge, both at home and by providing help in front-line camps. Refugees based in Ireland and the communities in which they are placed must be afforded the supports they require to fully integrate into society.

We must work with our European Union colleagues and the international community to help bring an end to the civil war that is destabilising Syria and generating the refugee crisis. The Fianna Fáil Party supports a significant expansion of aid to refugees in camps in the Middle East, including the release of further EU funding for this purpose. In addition, Irish funding for this purpose should be doubled to €1.2 million.

We must stand with others in fighting against extremists who are using this crisis to promote fear and distrust between groups. We insist that Europe remains true to its democratic and inclusive values. We should also continue to accommodate refugees in Ireland as part of a comprehensive international response.

The Fianna Fáil Party has been proactive on this issue from the start. Last summer, our spokesperson on European affairs, Deputy Timmy Dooley, visited Calais. In the wake of his experience, he urged the Government to hold a national policy forum on migration to develop Ireland's response to the escalating crisis and seek to host a European summit on the issue. We have continually stressed the need for strong leadership on this issue. Ireland knows more than most countries the compassion that other countries have shown to our citizens over many decades.

There is no doubt but the Syrian conflict is central to the refugee crisis and to end it would do much to alleviate the crisis. While resolving this conflict is critical, a key priority must be to provide aid to its victims. The humanitarian crisis in Syria has become a migration crisis. More than 250,000 people have been killed and more than 11 million have been displaced, while approximately 4.5 million Syrians have left for other countries where they live in desperate and depressing circumstances. People in search of a safe and secure future are leaving their homes and the refugee camps. The pressures being faced in Europe are the unavoidable consequence of five years of mounting misery. People are making traumatic and often deadly journeys because they believe they have no other option, as they have been cast out of their homes by brutal players on both sides of a terrible conflict.

Given the scale of the crisis and the dreadful humanitarian disaster involved, the outcome of the recent EU summit is at best insufficient and at worst reprehensible. The central agreement at the recent EU summit concentrated exclusively on trying to block the main migration route to Europe through more strenuous border controls. This objective is to be accomplished chiefly through Turkey stopping people from leaving, in return for which a series of long­standing Turkish demands are to be accommodated. The focus should be on ensuring appropriate conditions are in place for refugees but, sadly, this is not the priority. The United Nations and relief agencies still experience difficulty in raising funds, stretched as they are to the limit as they seek to deliver basic shelter, food and safe water for millions.

As my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, has pointed out previously, all countries have a basic moral duty to step up and do more. While Ireland is doing commensurately more than others, this is not sufficient. We should review our support programme, both our direct aid to organisations and the funding we provide through international bodies. We should work with partners in the European Union to deliver at least basic standards of provision. The deal with Turkey is most unlikely to deliver significant benefits and runs the real risk of causing grave damage to the fundamental principles of the European Union.

While attempting to dissuade people from making high risk sea journeys is not unreasonable, to link this objective to visa free travel for Turkish citizens and the acceleration of accession talks for Turkey sets a dangerous example. As our spokesperson on foreign affairs, Deputy Brendan Smith, has made clear, Fianna Fáil will oppose any measure that goes against clear legal obligations. The European Union cannot undermine the core values it demands of member states and countries that enjoy automatic rights to access the Union.

Many criticisms have been made of the EU-Turkey deal and it is difficult to disagree with the following view expressed by the Immigrant Council of Ireland: "Attempts to sell the EU-Turkey deal as a solution to this crisis are fooling no-one - not only are there very serious questions about whether the deal violates human rights but it has had no impact whatsoever on the longer routes where most of the lives are lost". NASC, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, which works with migrants and ethnic minorities in Cork, stated the following: "If EU leaders think that by shutting Europe's door on people that their need to flee will end, they are demonstrating a profound and deliberate misunderstanding of the level of human suffering and terror felt by men, women and children fleeing war and conflict". The Irish Refugee Council stated:

There is therefore a real possibility of one of two consequences arising from the EU-Turkey deal on returns to Turkey: either Greece will grant refugee status to the majority of those who have or will arrive in the country or they will be returning prima facie refugees to Turkey where they will face an uncertain future. Turkey has not only already accommodated 2.7 million refugees, many without the ability to support themselves, it has also not signed the Protocol to the Refugee Convention and is itself facing challenges to its own security. The agreement to provide resettlement for every Syrian national registered in Turkey for every one returned from Greece itself ("one in, one out") is alarming and has very little chance of success.

It is highly unlikely that this deal will play a pivotal part in reducing the number of refugees seeking to journey to Europe.

It is clear that Europe is facing many challenges, but the crisis cannot be used as an excuse to discard the principles on which the Union was founded - liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights and dignity.

We must work collectively and humanely to tackle this awful crisis, both the consequences and the causes. Our response will play a major part in defining whether we are true to our values or whether we allow the fringes to corrupt them. The use of tear gas and water cannon by the Hungarian Government last year was an outrageous attack on vulnerable people.

Obviously there is not unlimited capacity to provide for any person who wishes to come to Europe. However, we have an obligation to provide humanitarian refuge from the most brutal conflict. Fianna Fáil pledges to live up to that obligation and to work in this new Dáil to that effect. We were constructive in our opposition in the last Dáil, especially for example in regard to the International Protection Bill and I look forward to working with all parties in the Thirty-second Dáil to alleviate this crisis and to help migrants make better lives.

I wish to make two further points. I concur with the comments by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, regarding the Irish Defence Forces and commend their efforts in rescuing over 8,000 refugees. Their mission was an outstanding success and reflected well on our country's input. We were all very proud of what they achieved.

While we have been discussing the EU crisis in regard to Syria, we must also be mindful of the community of undocumented migrants who have come to this country. We discussed this issue in the Chamber during the previous Dáil sessions and in the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. These may be people who entered this country with documents, but who have overstayed their visas or work permits and now find themselves undocumented. They are effectively in limbo. The support organisations estimate there may be from 30,000 to 50,000 of these people. Primarily, they are working and contributing to the economy and filling gaps in the labour market. It behoves this Dáil and the next Government to try to regularise their situation because they have been here a significant amount of time. In one respect they are trapped here as they cannot go home to visit families without running the risk of not being allowed to return to this country. They have put down roots here and are working and contributing. For these reasons and to ensure these workers are not exploited, we should try to regularise the gaps in the labour market and shortcomings of some employers.

The backdrop to today's debate is that Europe is facing its biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. The European Union's response to this refugee and humanitarian crisis has been shameful, inhumane, indifferent at times and just wrong. The International Organization for Migration estimates that from 1 January to 25 April of this year, some 181,476 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea, arriving in Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Spain. That is roughly 3.4 times more than this time last year. During this short couple of months, 1,232 desperate people have died while attempting these dangerous sea crossings.

How have we responded to this tragedy? The European Union, with Ireland's full support, has established an agreement with Turkey to deport vulnerable and desperate men, women and children from the European Union to Turkey. Turkey is a country with a deplorable human rights record and a history of discriminating against minorities, yet it is deemed safe by Europe. Who is safe in Turkey today? Are human rights lawyers, the media, those who sign a petition, comedians and the Opposition safe? Certainly, the Kurds are not.

The European Union's agreement with Turkey is a capitulation to the forces of reaction in Europe. Five leading aid groups have taken an unprecedented step and are now refusing to work with Brussels on its implementation of this agreement. We are being assured that everyone will first be screened and only those who are deemed what the Union calls "irregular" will be deported back across the Aegean Sea. Human Rights Watch believes the deportations were rushed, chaotic, and violated the rights of those deported. We have also been informed that there will be no mass expulsions and that international and European law will be respected. The UN Refugee Agency has said that 13 of those deported recently had expressed a desire to seek asylum in Greece and should have been granted an amnesty in that country. Sinn Féin, along with many others, welcomed the Government's agreement to relocate 4,000 refugees to Ireland. However, so far, only one family of 11 Syrians has arrived and 31 Syrians will be relocated in the coming weeks. This is completely out of kilter with the scale and urgency of this issue.

Another direct consequence of the European Union's deal with Turkey is that desperate people are now starting to attempt a perilous journey from Libya to Italy, a much more dangerous sea journey than from Turkey to Greece. The UN estimates that over 500 migrants travelling between Libya and Italy have drowned in the past month. These figures are the backdrop to today's debate.

While I welcome the commitment by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to send another Irish vessel on search and rescue missions in the coming weeks, I am very concerned about the increased militarisation of these missions. Reports from the G5 summit this week indicate that American warships may now join European Union vessels off the coast of Libya by this summer in a Nato-led attempt to militarily stop refugees. Therefore, we have now gone from a situation where we deported people to sending in the military. This is the agenda of some countries. Britain seems keen in that regard. Its proposed response to the refugee crisis was to blow these ships up in their harbours. Irish military vessels must play no part in using military force to push refugees back to the failed state of Libya. The Irish Government should, instead, use its voice in clear opposition to deploying military vessels against rubber dinghies overflowing with children and families seeking sanctuary and a new life in Europe.

I appeal for Ireland to pull back from this agreement. It will not work for the families that are fleeing those regions. They will continue to flee and this country should stand up and take a proud position on this issue rather than support those who are intent on taking a military solution to this crisis. This refugee crisis has been created by a military catastrophe and Europe is clearly involved in that. Turkey is involved also and is not an independent player. We need to step back from what is happening now and to give a lead on the issue.

Deputy Crowe has covered most of the main points, but we should look at some of the statistics and figures since the outbreak of civil war in Syria in 2011. These are startling. Almost 500,000 people have lost their lives, some 13.5 million people are in need of aid, 4.6 million refugees are outside of Syria and 6.5 million people are displaced within Syria. Turkey is the largest host country, with 2.7 million refugees. However, the country with the largest proportion by population of refugees is Lebanon, where there are 1.3 million Syrian refugees.

This means that one in every five people within Lebanon is now a Syrian refugee, the highest ratio of any country. Syria is the largest generator of refugees, as well as having the highest number of people who are currently being displaced. Since June 2015, 1 million people, most of them refugees, have tried to flee to the safety of Europe, of whom 4,000 died in the attempt, one in two of whom was Syrian. Like previous speakers, I commend the Naval Service for its contribution between May and December 2015 and the work its members carried out in search and rescue operations. The figures speak for themselves - over 8,500 people were rescued by the three Naval Service ships on patrol in the Mediterranean. The Minister has just sanctioned the deployment of another ship in a couple of weeks time which we hope will take up the search and rescue role. It is important that its role be confined to search and rescue.

Deputy Seán Crowe touched on the EU deal with Turkey which was agreed in March. We voted to support the plan, but it shows complete disregard for international law on the rights of migrants. The other issue I have is that it is not getting much public attention, even though arguments relating to mass expulsions have been made. The deal focuses largely on Syrian refugees, but that does not tell the whole story as many refugees come from other countries, including Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and Eritrea. I do not want us to create a hierarchy of refugees. The focus should not be on one particular country as that would be detrimental.

On the question of our obligations, we had a relocation and resettlement scheme for 2016 in which we gave a commitment to take in a couple of thousand Syrian refugees, but to date only 11 have actually been resettled. We need to speed up the process. I do not know how we can do it, but we must at least hasten the relocation and resettlement programme because the people concerned are desperate. We need to do other things such as enhancing our legal challenge in terms of migration. I echo the call made by Deputy Seán Crowe that we should be more vocal on the EU deal. If the Minister is to make a closing contribution to the debate, she might touch on the possibility of a hierarchy or refugees being created as a result of this deal.

In an earlier stage of my life I worked in a region of Africa which was heavily affected by not just hundreds of thousands but millions of refugees. While I appreciate the sentiments of a lot of Members of this House, we need to be honest and realistic about what Ireland can and should do. I subsequently served for almost five years as Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development aid, in which capacity I had the important, if heart-rending, task of visiting very large refugee camps as a result of the genocide in Rwanda where the violence did not require bullets. Machetes were used to kill people, in many cases those who lived next door, and millions left by walking away.

By and large, refugees want to travel to the nearest country in order that they can return home when the conflict is over. If we were to be unfortunate enough to have violence in this country again that required people to flee, we know from experience that they would not want to leave their own homes but would want to make a life for themselves and their children in their own country. If they had to flee because of war and violence, they would generally want to return home and would only want to travel another country or continent if that was the only way to put a life together. We need to be honest about this. Some people migrate for economic reasons in search of a better life and that issue has to be addressed in a globalised world, but the only way to deal with a refugee crisis is to make peace and allow people the freedom to live in their homeland free from persecution.

The previous two speakers asked why so few Syrians were interested in coming to Ireland. The answer is simple. They would like to go to their friends, relatives and communities which are, for the most part, in Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian countries. That is what refugees do. Why did Irish people not travel to Germany after the Great Famine? They went to America because they had kith and kin there. They were more economic migrants, but in modern-day parlance they would be called refugees.

The European Union is based on solidarity and the founding impulse was to break the cycle of wars that had disfigured life in Europe for centuries. It remains one of the European Union's greatest strengths, but it does not do speed or rapid reaction, although there may be organisations with such designations attached to their titles. That must be a factor in any honest discussion. The only ones who can deal with the refugee numbers on the current scale are personnel with a background or who have received training in military organisations or organisations such as the fire service and medical and nursing personnel who are used to dealing with such crises and trained to respond to particular situations as they arise in a considered and comprehensive way.

The focus of EU foreign policy has to be on making peace in Syria and achieving a lasting peace in the region. Only then will there be space to stop the conflict and allow the families who have stayed to rebuild their lives and the ones who have left to rebuild theirs in bordering countries to return. There has to be a focus on women and children because they are the major casualties. In a lot of cases men are killed in conflicts and women and children make up the bulk of the people who flee. There is a need for responses from the European Union and other international organisations to allow children to continue their educational development in societies which value educational development highly.

If all of that was taken from us, simply because conflict had broken out and it was not possible to use the schools, how would we respond? Consider how difficult it was for people in different parts of rural Ireland at the height of the flooding crisis when they were deprived of the freedom to operate in the way they normally and traditionally would.

I agree that the response at present is slow. The agreement with Turkey does not bode well for the future, but we will see. The best thing happening at present is a deeper, better and more realistic conversation about how to help people. It is important that we in Ireland and in this Chamber collectively indicate that we support people being accepted into Ireland, but it is foolish to think that if people have relatives in Germany they will not wish to go to those relatives. However, where people are willing to consider other countries we should be to the forefront in offering refuge to families who may be willing to come here.

We must then consider how they will do when they get here. Above all else, they will have to stay here if they have no home to go to. My constituency of Dublin West received approximately 500 Bosnian families during the Bosnian conflict and many more through family reunification. How do people get on well if they have had to move to another country? It is by learning the language and by getting opportunities in education and ultimately in work, so they can develop a new family life. Unfortunately, for many of them it is in a new country, but perhaps they can be successful. When the conflict has ended either they or some of the children of the family as they grow to adulthood might be able to return home, if that is feasible.

We must be intensely practical about all of this, but we must also recognise that Ireland has a number of outstanding agencies, including the Navy, the Army and the Garda, whose personnel have served in many difficult conflict locations and on their borders. There are also organisations such as Trócaire, Concern and GOAL, which have unrivalled experience of dealing with humanitarian situations under the greatest pressures and of bringing genuine relief, as opposed to just words, to people who are in the most appalling situations. The International Organisation for Migration and the other UN organisations are incredibly well-meaning but, by God, they are very slow to respond. The Irish efforts must fit into that framework.

The genuine feeling of people in Ireland in favour of being able to help people who are under the most appalling pressure and stress is probably our greatest strength as a country. We should then look to the proud and real record of work of people at different levels of organisations such as Concern. One has to go into a conflict situation to see what those organisations and individual Irish people are able to do. We should be proud of that. Do not be stingy about the Irish effort. We are spending approximately €600 million per year on aid and development. That is a significant amount of money that is properly used, and it helps. However, speed and a real rapid response is what we wish to see.

I wish to focus on fortress Europe. There will be much criticism of the role of the EU from the radical left on this side of the House, and there will be much defence of that shameful role from the other parties. "Fortress Europe" is a colloquial term which basically means that Europe has been designed to make the journey to Europe as difficult as possible for people fleeing war, famine and persecution.

I will first respond to the acting Tánaiste's remarks about the European Union not being able to do speed and rapid reaction. That is nonsense. The European Union has done a €6 billion deal with one of the most shameful countries in the region, Turkey, which has a record not just of torturing immigrants but also of forcibly sending them back to Afghanistan and Syria. Indeed, it has shot Syrian refugees on the border. Europe does not do anything with speed or rapidity, but it spends a great deal of money on selling out the refugees. What I heard from the acting Tánaiste is really just an apology for the shameful record of the European Union.

The money is going directly to the refugees.

It is also nonsense to suggest that Syrians do not wish to come to Ireland because all of their relatives are in Germany.

It is their first choice of country.

It is nonsense. I visited Syria many times and I know that most ordinary Syrians have never heard of Ireland. They do not know we exist. If one asked them why they do not wish to come to Ireland, they would probably reply that they had never been asked, they have never heard of it or nobody had ever suggested it. We have committed to taking 4,000 Syrian refugees, but we have taken less than 500. Some of the groups advocating for those refugees will be outside the Dáil today and it behoves all Members to go out and show them some support.

Europe has a shameful record in general on the treatment of refugees. I will give one historical example. In 1938, while Hitler was engaged in his policy of ethnic cleansing of the Jews, a conference was held in the small villiage of Évian-les-Bains in France to discuss what to do with all of the Jews fleeing Germany, how to deal with that and what countries would take them in. Of the 38 countries represented at the conference, none except the Dominican Republic would take any more refugees. The rest were left to be slaughtered by Hitler's ethnic cleansing. We are not comparing like with like, but we are comparing that shameful record of Europe in dealing with a refugee crisis with how it is dealing with, or not dealing with, one today.

One of the benefits of the Cold War was the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. That was torn up by the European Union in the deal it made with Turkey. Like other Deputies, I will reiterate the shocking figures. Approximately 10,000 children have disappeared since the start of the refugee crisis and an average of two children per day drown in the Mediterranean. Just think about that and look at some of the material on YouTube and Channel 4 News. RTE news does not do this crisis any justice. On average, two children drown per day and this is being used by the loudmouths of the far right to spread poisonous messages. It is time that decent people stood up against this, and that this country began to honour its commitment to take in refugees.

A number of other issues must be recognised. One is the arms trade, which is engaged in this in a big way. Three of the six biggest arms dealers are members of the European Union - Germany, France and Britain. Germany, for all its talk of taking in refugees, has sold a huge amount of weapons to Syria over the years. It stopped recently but had sold items such as Global Hawk drones and all sorts of fancy weapons over the years.

Germany has taken in 1 million refugees for all its talk.

As one anti-war activist put it - if one sows war weapons, one reaps war refugees. It is a good way to put it. To batten down the hatches and say one is not letting anybody else in is shameful.

I wish to make a final point. The direct provision system in this country gives us a shameful record. There are 7,900 people in direct provision and over 55% of them have been in direct provision for over five years. Yesterday, Judge Bryan McMahon, who was appointed by the previous Minister to examine this, called for a once-off amnesty to be given to those 7,900 people to take them out of what can only be described as economic torture, living on €19 per week per adult and €9.60 per child per week. Then, when the children grow to teenagers and wish to be educated in this country they must pay EU education rates, which means it would cost approximately €18,000 to study for a degree.

Let us start examining our role.

Let us stop selling off NAMA properties, grab the housing that we can, look after the homeless and those who need homes here, as well as the refugees whom we can and are well able to take in and deal with the shameful record we have on direct provision.

The immediate backdrop to this debate is the recent deal struck between the European Union and Turkey to contain the flow of refugees into the European Union via Greece. The President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, accompanied the German Chancellor, Ms Angela Merkel, to a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border and stated at a press conference that Turkey was the best example for the whole world of how we should treat refugees and that no one had the right to lecture Turkey on what to do. I ask the acting Minister whether she agrees with that statement. As things stand, it is a fair interpretation of the Government's position that it thinks the Erdoan regime deserves the praise meted out by President Tusk. However, I would like to draw the Government's attention to the credible claims made by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that at least 16 refugees, including three children, were shot dead in the first three months of the year by Turkish forces, all in Kurdish areas. An officer of the free Syrian police which is supported by western powers told The Times that the number of refugees killed by Turkish forces was actually far higher, as many had been killed on the Syrian side of the border.

The activities of Turkish forces in bombing Kurdish settlements in Syria, greatly hampering the armed resistance to ISIS in the region, shows the Erdoan regime's opposition to ISIS is exceeded by its fear of Kurdish nationhood. Amnesty International reports that Turkey has illegally forced thousands of refugees back into Syria in the past two months. Amnesty International's director for Europe and central Asia was quoted in The Independent as stating the large-scale return of Syrian refugees it had documented highlighted the fatal flaws in the EU-Turkey deal, which can only be implemented with the hardest of hearts and blind disregard for international law.

Despite the 200,000 refugees living within Turkey's borders, the Turkish authorities have deliberately cut back on the registration of refugees, which is necessary for them to access basic public services. Amnesty International reports that some refugees have told it that they are scared of coming forward to register in case they are sent back to Syria by the Turkish authorities. Notwithstanding the fact that there are 200,000 refugees in Turkey, the deal with the European Union caps at 72,000 the number to be received by the Union. What is to become of the rest?

The Government cannot wash its hands of the legacy of imperialism. The ongoing use of Shannon Airport on the watch of the outgoing Government and its predecessor makes nonsense of the claims of neutrality. Likewise, the scandal of direct provision, whereby thousands of asylum seekers continue to languish in deplorable conditions which occasionally provoke very justified protests, should be high on the agenda of the next Government. It is clear that the continued shameful treatment of asylum seekers in Ireland is a cynical attempt to deter and discourage people from seeking refuge in this country. We can have no confidence that this will change on the initiative of the incoming Government. Instead asylum seekers in Ireland, with the backing of the wider communities in which they are located, will need to step up their campaign for residency. They will have the full support of AAA-PBP in this struggle.

I apologise to the Minister of State as I was at the housing committee and could not be present before now.

I have expressed my horror and outrage at the reprehensible deal done by the European Union with Turkey. It is, unquestionably, immoral, ethically wrong and, in actual fact, will be proved to be illegal. Not only this, it is an utter shambles which will not last and will not work. Without any doubt, what it facilitates is allowing the mass forced deportation of asylum seekers who have a legitimate right to claim asylum in Europe back to a country which can in no way be cited as a safe country for refugees. Testimony has been given by organisations such as Amnesty International on the stories of refugees in Turkey's border provinces about people being killed on the border. Men, women and children have been rounded up on a near daily basis since mid-January, which is completely against international law. In many instances, we are speaking about unaccompanied minors and pregnant women. It is not just Syrians who are involved, as we know that many Afghani nationals have also been deported, but to where? We must ask this question. The countries to which they are being sent back are incredibly unsafe. It is an absolute fact that the Taliban is being outmatched by ISIS which is even stronger than it and the two are fighting with each other. There is no question or doubt about it, as the Afghani Government, weak and all as it is, has stated that if these people are returned, their safety cannot be guaranteed. They will die. That is what we are facilitating.

Meanwhile in Greece the situation is utterly chaotic. We know that refugees are being kept in closed rather than open detention centres in order that they can be sent back to Turkey. There are also, of course, heroic stories from Lesbos about the huge voluntary effort made by ordinary people to assist asylum seekers. NGO sources have confirmed that riots have taken place in some of these areas, with police attacking children and the use of tear gas. Is this the Europe we have created, with unaccompanied children fleeing from wars being beaten by the police in closed detention centres because of the Dublin regulation? Is this the European Union over which we will stand? The European Union has a key role and responsibility for creating the crisis in the first place through its direct and indirect facilitation of the US military intervention in the Middle East.

We speak about refugees. It is an easy word to say, but it does not really mean anything and one does not really have to think about it. What we are speaking about is a human being, a person. In many instances we are speaking about a child because, according to the United Nations refugee body, many children are among the people who have been forced to flee their homes in terror and leave everything behind because of interference in their countries or civil war. This involves physical and psychological trauma. We know that at least 10,000 children have disappeared since the beginning of the refugee crisis. Deputy Mick Wallace and I visited Calais the weekend before last. Since the French Government chose to bulldoze sections of the camp almost two months ago, 129 children have gone missing in Calais. This has happened in France, the great country of liberty and equality. No one is looking for these children or knows what became of them. Did some of them reach England? Were some of them abducted or killed? The answer is nobody knows. We met three children in Dunkirk - two girls and a boy from the same family aged between seven and 14 years. Their parents had died in making the journey and they had made the rest of the journey on their own.

People have a fundamental human right to seek asylum and we are not giving it to them with this reprehensible deal which makes me utterly sick. What is most scary is that it is not the end of the process but only the start. Last summer we had what can only be described as the safety valve of Germany agreeing to take in 1 million people. That will not be available this year. Does this mean the people will stop coming? Of course, they will keep coming because they have no other choice. In many instances, those who left first were the men and all of the organisations working at the coalface state the women and children are due to follow. They are perhaps stuck in camps in Lebanon awaiting the message to come. Europe's attempt to shut its borders will not stop them.

It will just make it harder and will just mean that more of them will die at sea or going through Libya or wherever. It is a fact and it is happening already. Similarly, they will enrich the smugglers who operate at every single border throughout the journey they have to make across Europe.

One of the points we must register here is that Ireland has a role to play, not least because of our culpability regarding Shannon Airport and being responsible for this in the first place, but also because we can do and be something that this country has always put itself out there as being, namely, a sort of world leader in welcoming. We are supposed to be the land of céad míle fáilte, a hundred thousand welcomes. Let us put our money where our mouth is. In fairness, Irish people in their droves pledged to provide accommodation under the Irish Red Cross's solidarity campaign. The Irish Refugee Council and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission have said we must reassess the number we are taking in. I want us to take in more than 4,000. I cannot believe that over the past year, when the situation has deteriorated in the Middle East, we have only taken in a handful of people out of our agreed number. We are not putting Ireland out there as a destination. We made this point last week. Why are we not assuming a leadership role in fighting and being a voice for the rights of child refugees through promoting at EU level enhanced measures for the protection of migrant and refugee children? That would be an easy and very laudable thing to do. Why are we not doing it? Can we seriously examine this? At the moment, there are hundreds of children, unaccompanied minors, in Calais, which is not that far away. Could we not send some of our Department officials to consider processing applications for those children to come safely to Ireland? Why would we not do so? Why are we not spearheading in the EU efforts to consider reunification for those children, pathways for family members to reunite and so on? Why are we not looking at the very valuable role often played by people who accompany these children on their journey? They are not family members; they are people they happen to meet on the way. They have developed a deep attachment to those people and there should be a process for keeping them together and assessing their applications.

There is a real urgency in respect of this. It makes me sick that we allow EU fiscal rules to be broken for security measures. In Calais, there are five different police forces and 600 extra police officers have been seconded there, with hotels, accommodation, etc, required. There are perhaps 4,000 people in Calais and 5,000 in the wider area, with 1,000 in Dunkirk and so on. Providing them with safe haven and passage would be far cheaper than all of these measures and yet we ignore them. They are bulldozed, having been told to go there, and their possessions are ruined.

I want to finish with a letter that we got from some refugees we met in Dunkirk, where the mayor has cleaned up the act and made the situation a little more habitable for this group of mainly Kurdish refugees. They sum up quite well what we are standing over:

What can I write for you? You know that we are now 800 refugees. We are the refugees who could pay money to the smugglers. They made it, but we cannot pay so we are still here. We don't want to come illegally to the UK or to Ireland or Scotland, but it should be so easy for you. We are not 800,000. We are 800 refugees. Please don't leave us alone. We are human, the same flesh and blood living on the earth. Why are we being sacrificed on this planet by a system that humans created?  Why are we living in bad conditions and being ignored and for how long? But we will never give up. It's been ten months, eight for some, six months. We are here waiting. We still waiting.

This will continue and they will be joined by others as long as the EU and the West interfere in their countries. The least we can do is take a lead for children, and I hope that the Irish Government adopts a proactive role in the EU in arguing for a number of these, including the right to apply for asylum from areas like the refugee camps to any destination across Europe, as people require.

I very much welcome the fact we are having this debate today. It is incredibly important. It is very easy for us to hear snippets of information from the various sources about the extent of the migrant crisis and what it means for us in Ireland. However, at its most fundamental, it is not a migrant crisis or a refugee crisis but first and foremost a human crisis. The terms "migrant" and "refugee" have become weighted with connotations and have too often been used to almost distance ourselves from the humanity of the situation, namely, the desperation of men, women and children taking risk-laden journeys to try to escape the horrors of terror in order to survive. At its most fundamental, it is about survival. In our own DNA we understand that because we have a history, be it in the mid-19th century or otherwise. We are the survivors of that history, which is part of the reason we understand this issue more than most.

The conflict in Syria is the largest driver of migration. Anyone who has seen the recent aerial footage of the vibrant - or once vibrant - cities of Damascus and Homs will understand why a parent would make the decision to take their chances in very unseaworthy vessels just to make sure not just that their children have a future, but also that they and their children survive. Eritrea, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq all contribute to the numbers fleeing in search of peaceful lives. As Deputy Daly has pointed out, the problems regarding Afghanistan will increase the more ISIS becomes dominant. That is happening and it is something we should obviously be paying a great deal of attention to. People who have fled from that country simply cannot go back. We have signed up, as has the European Union, to international treaties relating to people who are fleeing for their lives but that is not the way it is playing out.

National Geographic is currently running an Instagram blog detailing the very human aspects of the crisis. There are images of women and children huddled into shipping containers talking eagerly about lands about which they really know nothing and just hoping that there will be some future for them, making plans and talking about, for example, whether their footwear will be good enough for this phenomenon that they have not experienced before, that is, snow. It is a very humbling project and is well worth paying attention to.

Anybody I know, anyone with an ounce of humanity, would have recoiled in horror when they saw the body of the little three-year-old, Alan Kurdi, washed up on the Turkish beach. However, we can see what is happening. It should not take one tragic incident for us to respond to this crisis. Regarding our own response, I applaud the Naval Service for its decision to send those vessels and for the 8,000 lives that were saved but it must go that stage further in assessing how those lives are lived afterwards. Those Naval Service people will pay a price in not being able to unsee what they have seen and there will be an emotional price for them too.

It is important not to fall victim to some of the lazy and internationally inflammatory narratives surrounding the crisis and the walls of mistrust that are constructed between "them" and "us". It is not long ago that Irish people were very much the "them". In some cases, it was a question of survival while in other cases, people were trying to make better lives for themselves. Our diaspora is now a source of pride and has contributed to other countries in a way that we are very proud of.

As for the notion that immigrants are always a drain on the country, people come to make a life and to improve themselves and it is very much a plus. We must extend the same humanity to others that was shown to our emigrants in the past decades. Of course, we must do that in a sustainable way, and that takes account of our ability and capacity to adequately support and assist those who we are seeking to help. I take Deputy Clare Daly's point about the initiative around children. That would be something we would show real leadership in providing. It is unacceptable for a 14 year old, a seven year old and a younger child to be in a location on their own. We can do something about such matters and take a lead on it.

It is not acceptable to say that we can take migrants and refugees if we do not have in place the services that allow us to treat them with respect. Direct provision is not acceptable to most of us. Nor is the chaotic waiting times for the application and processing of asylum claims. We must maintain our humanity in all aspects of our response to the crisis and not be sidelined by terms designed to dehumanise and alienate people.

If one is looking for failures of the European Union, this is one of the really big failures. It is a Europe of individual nations. We cannot stand back and be appalled listening to Donald Trump talking about building walls around the United States when we are seeing exactly that happening. Although it may not be a wall, and it might be a fence or it might be the use of tear gas, that is what is happening. If one is looking for the failure of the European Union, if one is looking for a Europe that has a social conscience, that is, a Europe of solidarity, Turkey is pointing to the failure. That is not the way to acknowledge human rights or the various treaties that Europe would have signed up to and I am ashamed when I look at that as a response. The big shame is that we, a small country like Ireland, have something more to say on this because of our own history.

The European Union is not only an economic union. It is, or is supposed to be, something more than an economic union and if this demonstrates anything, it demonstrates that it is not. Unless it is something more, it will be only about self-interest by individual nation states. Europe must act collectively in this regard but in the context of international human rights law.

I am glad, on behalf of the Green Party, to speak on this challenging issue we face. We are conscious that, as the spring ends and summer arrives, we can expect a rise in the numbers of migrants coming across by boat, be it from Libya and Turkey, into Italy and Greece, respectively. This is a challenge that the whole of the European Union must address and we, as a country, must play our part.

I share some of the sentiments expressed and my party, both in Europe and elsewhere, has raised concerns regarding the approach that the European Union has taken. The potential undermining of the basic freedoms and rights that we recognise in our Union gives it great strength and the potential undermining of those in the nature of how we treat people fleeing as refugees from war and conflict is something that is central to the very rights that our Union represents. There is a real challenge here. We saw last year over 1 million refugees coming to our borders. In the Union, that is put into pale shadow when compared to what other, often much poorer, countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, have had to accommodate. It should give us some sense of proportion in terms of our response to this.

I want to draw attention to a long-term or broader perspective in terms of what may be driving the migration or what we might expect in terms of ongoing migration. I refer to the connecting issue of climate change, in terms of how it is already driving migration and can be expected to drive it in the coming years. I am conscious that one must be careful in this regard because it is difficult to assess one particular weather event or situation in the context of bigger phenomena, but it would be wrong for us to ignore it. The US Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, recognised, as many others did, that the conflict in Syria, which is complex and has a range of national and wider geopolitical causes, was also at least exacerbated by the significant four or five year drought leading up to 2011, which drove approximately 1.5 million Syrians from the land into cities and which exacerbated the civil unrest when it arose. It was a contributory factor, but one that was not insignificant and one that we will be able to expect in other countries as climate change starts to evolve in the way the scientists have outlined.

I will share a couple of personal reflections on that because in recent years I have had the benefit of being able to visit a number of climate institutes which are trying to assess what the likely progress is. This issue is not coming from a fringe concern or marginal global institutes. One of the projects I had the great pleasure to visit is the Potsdam institute outside Berlin where I was able to see some of the modelling work that it was doing for the World Bank. The World Bank had done a major report on what the world would look like if we moved towards a 4°C warmer world, which is our present direction. The most scary prospect in that regard - if one looks at the modelling of each area of the world it is not easy to be certain as to what will happen - is where they showed us the modelling for central India in a 4°C warmer world. While climate change will present certain difficulties to Ireland in terms of rising sea level and flooding, in some ways it will bring certain changes that will improve the growing climate or bring challenges that we can face. In central India, according to the modelling of the Potsdam institute, one was looking at temperature increases that would make the centre of India practically uninhabitable and the consequences of that elsewhere in terms of the complications or implications for future migration is something we must think about and assess.

Similarly, there are significant international studies looking at the risk areas in the Persian Gulf. The assessment, because of the excessive heat and drought there, is that when one gets above heat levels of approximately 50°C it becomes effectively uninhabitable. That is not now a marginal risk or long-term prospect. That is something that we may start to see. It is a background issue to take into account. This will not be something that is merely a one-off event in one country due to local circumstances, it is due to bigger long-term forces that we must prepare for.

I looked at the recent statistics on where the migration to Europe is coming from at present. It is obviously driven by Syria, being the largest factor, and Afghanistan and Iraq, where the conflicts in those countries are driving people to flee. However, we are already starting to see similar trends in countries slightly further away, for example in Ethiopia, where we face an immediate issue in terms of possible drought there this May, in the whole of the region of the Horn of Africa but also in countries such as Pakistan. Pakistan is a country that has been hit by very significant flooding and other events and we are starting to see almost 50,000 people a year migrate to Europe because of such uninhabitable terrain. It is not that people want to leave their home. These locations are places where people have lived for tens of thousands of years in harmonious connection with nature but, because it is no longer possible to live in such locations, this we must take into account.

This is the scale of the challenge and change that we must prepare for and we must play our role in how we manage it.

I would like to make my central point about what we can do, and it is difficult to address the full issue in a short time. We need to be ambitious about the number of refugees we are willing to take. We must manage it, so we do not lose the confidence of the Irish people, and ensure political responses opposed to welcoming refugees do not develop here. We must manage the integration of refugees, so that they and the next generation are fully Irish and are seen as fully connected to our country. This requires our attention and political agreement across the floor. It is one of the major issues on which we could probably have consensus during the next two or three years, the lifetime of the Government. We can agree that we are ambitious and want to manage it by providing housing, integration and education. The Parliament should set itself the aim of prioritising it and being good at it. I do not hear disharmony on the broad perspective as to where we stand and what we want to do.

To do this, we must change our current process. The statistics on how Ireland performs do not accord with what I have heard today. Across the floor, every party I have heard has said it wanted to play its part and be good at it. However, according to the international and European assessments, we are not top of the list. Ireland deals with a very low number of asylum cases quickly. Our approval rate is one of the worst. Putting people in the existing system into a longer decision-making process is a shameful record which does not match what is being said here today. Our treatment of people in direct provision, whereby they cannot work or even cook for themselves, is something we must change immediately, regardless of our working within the European system.

We need to increase our spending on overseas aid. This will be a difficult political decision, given that it will require tough choices that will take money from other very deserving areas. We have a very successful aid programme in that it is not tied to commercial interests as it is in some countries. We should not connect our food industry, foreign policy or military policy with our aid programme in any way. We should stick to what we have always done, and which we have been good at, namely, being seen as independent, neutral and generous in our aid programme.

Although the Tánaiste lauded our position, and €600 million is a lot of money, we are slipping back on our commitment to contribute 0.7% of GNP to overseas development aid even though our economy is growing so strongly, at a rate of 7% per annum. Our contribution is below 0.37% or 0.39% of GNP; the officials might be able to inform me of the exact figure. Ireland's strategic success as an economy is based on being a centre for Europe, Middle East and Africa, EMEA, industry and business centres. It would connect to what people have said in this Chamber. If what we say is to turn into real action, we must increase spending on aid. The aid budget helps protect people against adverse climate developments in their countries and the consequences of war. It is the best way of solving the problem and we must do it as well as welcoming refugees to our country.

The debate is timely and is an important opportunity to review Ireland's response to the refugee crisis at national as well as EU level. I will focus my remarks on the plight and circumstances of women and children refugees, although other Deputies have referred to them in their contributions. As the Minister and everybody here are aware, women and children are at a particular risk in Europe. It is heartening to see several front-line organisations, such as the Immigrant Council of Ireland and Amnesty International, which other Deputies have referred to, provide us with information and analysis for our consideration and discernment as law-makers on the wide variety of issues regarding refugees, particularly women and children.

Figures from the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, tell us that women and children now make up the majority of those reaching Europe by sea. Some 55% of the 180,588 people who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe so far in 2016 are women and children. In the refugee camp at Idomeni on the Greek border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia there are 9,900 people, of whom 40% are children and 22% are women. These women are particularly vulnerable. They are forced to sleep in crowded conditions or outside, exposing themselves to risk. As a result, many women are sleeping in groups and in shifts as they try to look out for one another.

Why is there an increase in women making the journey now? After five years of war, many of these refugees have depleted their life savings and desperation is settling in. Early and forced marriage has increased dramatically due to the conditions of absolute poverty. Adult refugee women are advertising themselves as brides for sale as another devastating survival mechanism. In many of the neighbouring countries, as we know, Syrian refugees cannot access public services or work. Almost 700,000 Syrian children are not enrolled in any form of education. In Jordan alone, 115,000 children are not attending school and, in many instances, are compelled to work informally in dangerous conditions. An entire generation of Syrians will be uneducated. Of course Syrian women are worried for their families and their futures.

At a recent round table event in Dublin, organised by the Immigrant Council of Ireland and hosted by the European Parliament office in Dublin, a young Syrian woman living in Dublin talked about her fellow country women who have taken the risky decision to seek refuge in Europe. She spoke of how women feared for their lives and hardly slept a wink for the entire journey. She said many women who had never previously wore the hijab wore it on the journey, hoping it would shield them from sexual exploitation and violence. She also spoke of one whom she met travelling with nine children, of whom four were her own and five were her sister's. Her sister had made it to the EU and had refugee status but because she had not managed to get family reunification, having waited two years for the official response to her application, had asked her sister to bring her children on the treacherous journey. We must think carefully about why families have to take such risks.

These stories must be catalysts for us to increase the pace of family reunification applications. Deputy Clare Daly made some very helpful and constructive proposals or suggestions, which was great to hear. Even after fleeing the violence in Syria, violence is a common experience for refugees on the move. Unequal gender relations become magnified at times of crisis. Robbery, violence and rape are commonplace. Many women are forced to engage in survival sex with smugglers to get a place on a boat while others risk being trafficked for exploitation. Meanwhile, there is 100% impunity for sexual and other forms of gender-based crimes committed against refugee women. Not one smuggler, border guard or any other person has been prosecuted for such a crime. We have to stop this. Furthermore, this is why it is inhuman that we allow smuggling gangs to flourish instead of guaranteeing safe and legal routes to the EU for these women fleeing a ravaging war.

Not only do they risk violence en route, there are also health risks on the precarious journey. The UN estimates that at least 12% of the women making the journey to Europe are pregnant and yet they have no access to basic prenatal or postnatal care or any other reproductive health services along the refugee route. The security and safety of refugee women can be guaranteed only if safer and legal routes to the EU are made available. We need increased legal pathways, including greater use of resettlement programmes, family reunification, humanitarian visas and study visas for people fleeing conflict and persecution.

In her speech, the Minister outlined how Ireland is working with its commitments to take 4,000 refugees under the resettlement programme. We have also promised to take another 2,600 refugees under the relocation process as part of EU's burden-sharing arrangement under which it was agreed to relocate 160,000 people. The Minister referred to the "problematic" nature of this programme. As other Deputies have said, just ten or 11 people have arrived under this scheme so far. I understand the correct figure is ten, although it might be 11. Most of the 55,000 people who are stuck in increasingly difficult and dangerous conditions in Greece are eligible for relocation. There is no reason for delay. Some 25,000 Syrians went to Canada recently as part of a humanitarian transfer programme. It was all processed in 100 days. It is possible to bring women and children to safety. There is an ethical imperative for us to do everything in our power to discover how to increase the pace of change to ensure we do not leave these people at risk night after night. We need to step up our support to countries of first asylum. Greece and Italy cannot cope without collective resources from the EU. There is a need for burden-sharing. We must look to improve conditions for refugees in camps in countries neighbouring Syria and to help the millions of people who are displaced within Syria to create safer places for them. If we are to achieve this, we must provide the increased funding for the UNHCR that has been called for by many speakers in this debate.

Many Deputies have correctly challenged Europe's credibility as a promoter and guardian of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, which is at risk of failure if we continue to fail the thousands of people who are seeking refuge on our shores. We need collectively to ensure greater protection of women and children through the provision of safe reception centres with separate sleeping facilities and bathrooms for women and proper policing with staff who are trained in gender-based violence. We need to make sure refugees can access reproductive health services along the entire route. We must ensure women who are victims of violence based on their gender are able to access services. I want to conclude with the words of the poet Warsan Shire, which poignantly reflect the reality of the fate of women refugees:

i want to go home,

but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore.

The poem also reads:

you have to understand,

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land.

I am very pleased to contribute to this afternoon's debate. I thank the spokespersons on European affairs and the other Deputies who have spoken already. It is fair to say the speeches we have heard have reflected the unanimous support in this country for the humanitarian approach that has traditionally been taken by Ireland over many decades and have acknowledged that many people from this nation have been forced to leave these shores in the past because of poverty, war and conflict. It is timely and important, particularly in this interregnum period, that the Dáil is given an opportunity to engage in a debate on this matter. It is not one of the most important issues facing Europe at this time; it is the single most important pressing and difficult issue for the European Union.

In light of some of the remarks we have heard during this debate, it is important to make the point that the EU is a family of member states that are being affected in many different ways by this crisis and have very significant differences in their resources and therefore their capacity to respond to the crisis. Equally, it is important to say that the EU-Turkey deal was not negotiated by the institutions of the EU. It was negotiated at Council level by the Governments and Ministers of the member states. The varying degrees of difficulty being experienced by member states were taken into account. Of course the institutions are now tasked with delivering on the decisions that have been made. While there are many pressing issues for the EU, including the Greek economy, Brexit and the Union's relations with Russia, this issue is the main topic of discussion at many of our Council formations, including the Justice and Home Affairs Council, at which this country is represented by the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald. We are represented at the Foreign Affairs Council by the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and in its defence configuration by the Minister, Deputy Coveney. This matter has also been considered at ECOFIN and at meetings of European affairs ministers which I have attended. Most importantly, it has been debated at European Council level.

The agreement with Turkey was a difficult one to reach. European nations have quite rightly been accused of moving too slowly with respect to this crisis. That is undoubtedly a fact. It is accepted by all member states. When we look at the deal with Turkey, it is important to acknowledge that many countries outside the EU have standards that differ from this country's standards with respect to certain freedoms and humanitarian issues. Turkey is currently hosting almost 3 million people, many of whom are trying to make their way to the EU. The primary objective of the agreement that was reached with Turkey recently was to reduce the number of people who are coming to Europe using people-smugglers. Last year, we saw terrible pictures of a young boy on a beach who had drowned while being smuggled. The early indications following the agreement of this imperfect deal are that the number of arrivals on the Greek islands has fallen to approximately 130 per day from a previous level of 1,400 per day. The people who travelled in such numbers before the deal was reached were being smuggled and many of them were drowning. It has correctly been pointed out that we need to have safe and legal routes into the EU for people who are fleeing the terrible conflicts that have been mentioned in Syria and other countries. That is the objective of the agreement that has been reached with Turkey.

Deputy Niall Collins spoke about the legality of this deal. The legality of this arrangement was discussed in the run-up to and during the most recent European Council meeting, at which agreement on the EU-Turkey deal was reached. It has been accepted by the UNHCR that this deal complies with international humanitarian law. It is crucial to remember that the purpose of the deal is to support Turkey as it seeks to use its very limited resources to deal with the arrival of so many people. The AAA-PBP spokesperson very inaccurately said earlier that €6 billion is being given to Turkey, which, as she put it, is a country with questions that need to be answered. Some €3 billion has been committed to support the migrants who are in Turkey. The disbursement of that money is conditional on ensuring it is spent on helping the families and the human beings who are in Turkey. There is an agreement that an additional €3 billion can be provided if and when that money properly finds its way to support health and education needs and to provide food and other basic supplies.

As is evident from the general tone of the contributions to the debate, nobody in this House is happy with the pace of the resettlement and relocation processes to date. Ireland voluntarily agreed to take in 4,000 people, which is reflective of the will of the people. The number coming to our shores is low. With the 11 people who arrived in recent days, 263 people have been resettled here and it is expected that a total of 520 will be resettled by the end of the year. The relocation programme deals with people from one European Union member state who wish to relocate to another.

As Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, I believe some of the references to one country in particular and its imperial history were outrageous. Irish people have an enormous generosity of spirit and want to help others from around the world who, as victims of conflict, are forced to travel to Europe. They are not alone in their compassion. Germany, having taken in 1 million people, has shown enormous compassion. The German people, too, have shown an enormous generosity of spirit in allowing others to come to their country to have a new future.

It is important in the context of this debate that we empathise with other EU member states in what they are seeking to achieve and the pressures they are under. We will continue to ensure EU law and humanitarian obligations are at the heart of any European Union decision, but it must be acknowledged that the crisis is putting huge pressure on many of the small Balkan countries and some of the larger member states. The European Union project is under significant pressure because of this migrant crisis. Members can be assured that the Government will continue to play its part in this regard. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Union Affairs has always engaged significantly on EU matters. It is unfortunate, given the interregnum, that it has not had an opportunity to meet, but it is for that reason this opportunity is welcome.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this humanitarian crisis. Europe is experiencing one of the most significant influxes of migrants and refugees in its history. Forced by civil war and terror, having lived their lives in darkness and suffering, coming from a regime under which there have been gross human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity and pulled by the promise of a better life, huge numbers of people have fled the Middle East and Africa, risking their lives along the way. Can any one of us imagine what it is like for those who have to flee their homes, families, communities and countries, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, having had to make the decision of whether to bring their children or leave them and facing huge unknown perils in terms of their physical safety and enormous language and cultural barriers?

More than 250,000 people have been killed; more than 11 million have been displaced, while 4.5 million have left their countries. More than 1 million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015. This compares with a figure of 280,000 in 2014. The scale of the crisis continues, with more than 135,000 having arrived in the first two months of 2016, many of them vulnerable women and children. Among the forces which are driving people to make the dangerous journey are the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The vast majority, more than 80%, of those who reached Europe by boat in 2015 had come from these three countries. Poverty, human rights abuses and deteriorating security conditions are also prompting people to set out from countries such as Eritrea, Pakistan, Morocco, Iran and Somalia in the hope of a new life in Europe. The routes they are taking are fraught with danger, but they have no other option. In 2015 more than 3,770 people drowned or went missing while crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Greece or Italy in flimsy dinghies or unsafe fishing boats. Most of those heading for Greece take the relatively short journey from Turkey to the islands of Kos, Chios, Lesbos and Samos. There is little infrastructure on these small Greek islands to cope with the thousands arriving, leaving overburdened authorities struggling to provide vital assistance. Survivors often report violence, rape and abuse by traffickers who charge thousands of dollars per person for their services. The chaos in Libya, in particular, has allowed traffickers the freedom to exploit migrants and refugees desperate to reach Europe.

For years the European Union has been struggling to harmonise asylum policy. It must be acknowledged that this is a difficult task for 28 member states, each with its own police force and judiciary. Championing the rights of poor migrants is difficult as the economic climate is still gloomy and many Europeans are unemployed and wary of foreign workers. EU countries are divided on how to share the refugee burden. More detailed joint rules have been introduced through the common European asylum system, but enforcing them EU-wide is a challenge. We must identify new measures that can be put in place at EU level to address the migration crisis. The Government has been too silent on this issue to date.

The unprecedented hardship and tragedy we are witnessing in countries in the Middle East and north Africa is the cause of the migrant crisis gripping Europe. The European Union must take a responsible and collective approach to this issue. Ireland is not doing enough. We are all very proud of the Naval Service, having rescued thousands from the Mediterranean Sea, but Ireland can and should do more. With all other countries, it has a moral duty to step up and do more. It is clear that the Dublin regulation which governs the asylum process is inadequate to deal with the scale of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Italy, Greece and Hungary. It is, therefore, timely to review this policy. Other member states are failing to meet their obligations as members of the European Union. The European Union was founded on the principles of community and solidarity, but it is clear that some member states are being overwhelmed by the crisis. It must be acknowledged that Europe is facing many challenges, but the crisis we face in Europe cannot be used as an excuse. We must work collectively and humanely to tackle this awful crisis, both the consequences and the causes.

Europe needs strong leadership on this issue. Ireland, more than most countries, knows the compassion other countries have shown to its citizens for many decades. Ireland is the ideal venue to host a European summit on the migration crisis and it has a proven record at EU level of delivering comprehensive agreements on major issues facing our community of nations. We must come up with concrete proposals for the successful integration of refugees and migrants. Deputy Niall Collins referred to the undocumented in Ireland. There are approximately 8,000 people living in direct provision centres. These people have no control over any aspect of their lives, including how they eat their food. They are merely existing without dignity in their lives.

The EU-Turkey deal agreed by the European Council on 17 and 18 March is unjust and unworkable. It does not address the refugee crisis. The policy agreed by the Council will have a huge impact on the lives of vulnerable people seeking safety in the European Union and, potentially, far-reaching consequences for our obligations under international law and risks breaching the fundamental right to seek asylum.

If the European Union does not want people to enter it by boat, we must with all urgency provide alternative safe pathways for those fleeing violence and persecution. If EU leaders think that by shutting Europe's door people's need to flee will end, they are demonstrating a profound and deliberate misunderstanding of the level of human suffering and terror felt by men, women and children fleeing war and conflict. We must do more.

As a country that has such a long history of emigration, our response to the refugee crisis - I use that term for want of better words, as I am not am a fan of it - has been nothing short of disgraceful. For generations, Irish people have moved abroad to live and work. I am sure that nearly every Deputy in this House has an experience to relate of emigration through family or friends. My own family has a long history of emigration, yet we have difficulty in welcoming people to our shores at a time when they need our help the most. Let us not forget that over 1 million Irish people were forced to leave this island owing to famine and that many died on the sea journey. Our ancestors were refugees in situations similar to those of current refugees. One of the founding principles of the European Union was to combat social exclusion and discrimination. When one considers that 1,232 people died while attempting sea crossings between January and April this year alone, it is clear that the European Union is not living up to this principle. Unfortunately, we must include Ireland in this. The problem is only set to get worse, given the deal done between the European Union and Turkey. This will see vulnerable men, women and children deported to Turkey, a country that we know has a deplorable human rights record and a history of discriminating against minorities.

When we imagine what it must be like to be in the situation in which a lot of people find themselves, forced to flee from their homes, we should think of it in the context of our own children. As a mother, I know that there is nothing I would not do to protect my two sons. That is the situation with which people throughout the world are faced. They are faced with losing their job and home and possibly their family. I believe any parent would do everything in his or her power to keep his or her family safe in these circumstances. After all, when people set out to make these crossings, they know that there is a good chance they will not make it. They are making these crossings in very difficult circumstances which I do not think we should underestimate.

What has our response been to families and those who find themselves in this situation? With the exception of the very good work being done by the NGO sector, charitable organisations, various groups and individuals, we have turned our backs on those who have been forced through no fault of their own to make a terrifying journey to try to secure their safety. Of the 4,000 refugees Ireland was to take in, so far only one family of ten Syrians have been relocated here. The response is far too slow and, frankly, disgraceful. While many Irish families and individuals have pledged to house incoming refugees, there is silence from the Government on the matter. I commend the Naval Service for all the work it has been doing in the past few years in this regard, but we need to see much faster action.

I agree with many of the Deputies who have spoken about the direct provision system, but that is not the solution or the answer. We must move away from it towards a model of social integration and be far faster in our response. It is, after all, a crisis. Similar to the housing crisis, we need to come up with solutions immediately. We must be far more welcoming. All we have taken in are ten Syrians when we pledged to take in at least 4,000. I urge Ministers to do everything in their powers to speed up our response and move away from the direct provision model.

Táim buíoch as ucht na deise seo labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach, tromchúiseach agus truamhéalach seo. Tá sé deacair orm a shamhlú cad a dhéanfainn dá mbeinn ag cur fúm sa tSiria. Tá sé deacair radharc a fháil ar an saol atá ag na daoine sin a bhfuil fonn géar orthu teitheadh ón gcoimhlint, ón anró, ón gcruatan agus ón suarachas. Tá fonn chomh mór sin orthu teacht ar thearmann go gcuireann siad a saoil faoi stiúir daoine nach bhfuil aithne acu orthu agus téann siad ar bháid agus soithigh eile atá plódaithe, lag, tanaí agus, sa deireadh thiar thall, faoi thoil na Meánmhara.

Tá daoine ann a bheadh den tuairim gur daoine iad seo atá ag taisteal trí mhodh ar bith chun na hEorpa díreach chun saol nios fearr a bhaint amach, nach bhfuil iontu ach daoine atá ag iarraidh an deis a thapú agus nach teifigh chearta iad. Ach is í an fhírinne ná go bhfuil na daoine seo ag teitheadh ó chogadh gan stad, foréigean agus anord sa tSiria. Is mar gheall ar seo go bhfuil an éigeandáil is mó agus is géara romhainn maidir le teifigh ag teacht chuig an Eoraip ó bhí an Dara Chogadh Domhanda ann. Theip ar fad ar an Eoraip - sé sin le rá na hinstitiúidí Eorpacha - daonnacht a léiriú. Cuireadh cosc i ndiaidh choisc roimh theacht ar chomhréiteach a bheadh measartha ó thaobh líon na dteifeach. Agus muid mar an mór-roinn is mó agus is saibhre, ba cheart dúinn bheith in ann i bhfad Éireann níos mó a dhéanamh agus a bhaint amach. Is iad tíortha cosúil leis an lodáil agus an Ghréig atá thíos leis an déine a chuir an tAontas Eorpach orthu le blianta beaga anuas. Tá sé deacair orthu dul i ngleic i gceart leis an méid daoine atá ag teacht chucu.

Maidir leis an margadh a rinneadh i mí Mheán Fómhair chun 160,000 teifeach ón lodáil agus ón nGréig a athlonnú, is sprioc é atá réidh go maith agus atá inbhainte amach. Níl ann ach teifeach amháin do gach trí mhíle duine. Ach níl ag éirí leis an margadh sin. Níl sé á chur i bhfeidhm nó gar dó. Níor lonnaíodh ach 885 teifeach san Eoraip. Cuir é sin i gcomparáid le stáit ata i bhfad nios boichte agus faoi níos mó brú, cosúil leis an Liobáin agus an Iordáin, atá ag deileáil le níos mó ná milliún teifeach.

Níl freagra an Stáit seo maith go leor ach an oiread. Gheall muid go nglacfadh muid le 4,000 teifeach, rud a chiallaíonn nach mbeadh ach teifeach amháin do gach 1,150 duine sa Stát seo. Go nuige seo, níor tháinig chugainn ach clann de dheichniúr ón tSiria, le 30 eile fós le teacht. Nil sé sin maith go leor nó sásúil ar chor ar bith. Tá sé scanallach. Mór an náire orainn mar Stát. Tá sé seo i gcomhthéacs bogadh na milliúin daoine ón tír bhocht sin agus sinne, lenár stair Ián de scéalta imirce agus tréigeadh na talún, ag tabhairt an bheagán suarach de chabhair do na daoine bochta seo. Mór an náire orainn.

Is í an fháilte agus an chomhsheasmhacht a léirigh muintir na hÉireann an rud a chuireann an náire is mó ar an Stát. Tréaslaím le na daoine a rinne iarracht fáilte a chur roimh theifigh ón tSiria, chomh maith leis an gcuidiú a chuireadar ar fáil do na teifigh atá sa Ghréig, i gCalais agus áiteanna cosúil le sin. Gheall níos mó ná 800 duine go dtabharfaidís lóistín do na teifigh seo trí chóras Chros Dhearg na hÉireann.

Caithfear deireadh a chur leis an margadh a rinneadh idir an tAontas Eorpach agus an Tuirc, tír ata ag eirí níos tiarnúla agus a bhfuil stair lofa aige maidir le cearta daonna. Rud gránna a bhí ann ó thús deiridh. Mar Stát, thugamar tacaíocht dó sin agus táimid freagrach as.

Baineann an t-imní is mó atá orm leis an gcaoi a bhfuil an tAontas Eorpach ag dul i ngleic leis an ngéarchéim. Baineann sé le cumhacht agus cur i gcoinne, seachas le bealach sábháilte a thabhairt do dhaoine teacht ar thearmann. Ba chóir dúinn féachaint ar chruthú chórais faoi bhráid an Stáit de athbhunú príobháideach, mar a bhí ann i 2014 faoin iar-Aire Dlí agus Cirt agus Comhionannais, an Teachta Alan Shatter, agus mar atá ann faoi láthair sa Tuaisceart. Tá sé sin tar éis a bheith curtha i bhfeidhm go héifeachtúil in áiteanna eile ar nós Cheanada, agus ba chóir dúinn féachaint air. Tabharfadh sé deis do shaoránaigh Siriacha in Éirinn agus do shaoránaigh Éireannacha ón tSiria iarradh ar a gclanna teacht chun cónaí anseo leo agus linn.

Caithfimid bealaí eile a bhunú chun rochtain a chur ar fáil agus a chinntiú go gcuireann Éire a ghealltanais i gcrích. Caithfimid trócaire a léiriú do na daoine atá thíos leis an gcogadh marfach, uafásach seo agus caithfimid brú a chur ar an Aontas Eorpach deireadh a chur leis an margadh lofa, scanallach seo leis an Tuirc.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the House on this very important issue, which is one of the most serious facing our planet. My colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, spoke earlier about the internal EU dimensions of the migration crisis. As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I will speak about the external aspects of this crisis which has dominated the agenda of EU Foreign Ministers at their monthly meetings during my tenure. In the first instance, it should go without saying that the most harrowing aspects of the crisis lie beyond our borders in the conflict zones which have given rise to this huge movement of people. However, from a European perspective, it is no exaggeration to say that the migration crisis has in the past year convulsed the EU and at times threatened the solidarity which has been its hallmark.

Following last month's political agreement between EU Heads of State and Government and Turkey, the migration crisis has for the time being moved off the front pages. However, the crisis is anything but over. In dealing with this crisis, we must keep the migrants themselves at the centre of our thinking and the core of our actions. These migrants have felt compelled to flee their countries because of conflict and violence. As an international community, we must therefore intensify our efforts to bring these conflicts, particularly those in Syria, Sudan and Libya, to an end. So many migrants in their desperation have fallen into the hands of ruthless and unscrupulous people-smugglers. We must, therefore, build solutions that break the business model of the smugglers. These migrants have felt forced to abandon their homelands. We must therefore ensure that we act to prevent conflicts and crises in the developing world and, when conflicts occur, ensure that refugees can, to the greatest extent possible, be cared for near to their homelands so that they can return home when conflicts end. This is a vastly complex issue and there are no easy or simple solutions.

The European Union has been playing a leading role in tackling the current crisis. Ireland has played a key role, as an EU member state, in bilateral co-operation with the states from which the migrants are coming and with international organisations. We have worked with our European partners and with partners outside the European Union. The scale of the current migration into Europe is enormous. More than 1 million migrants and asylum seekers arrived irregularly in Europe in 2015. Indications are that this migration flow is continuing apace this year with the so-called central Mediterranean route from north Africa to Italy becoming active again now that the western Balkans route has been all but closed. So far this year, more than 154,000 migrants and asylum seekers have arrived in Greece, more than arrived in the same period in 2015. These numbers are unprecedented in Europe since the Second World War. A very large number of these migrants have come from Turkey and it has long been recognised that Turkey has a key role to play if the migration crisis is to be resolved.

Last month, EU leaders and Turkey reached an agreement on how to address irregular migration. The joint statement agreed between the two sides commits Turkey to readmit from Greece all irregular migrants and to protect them in accordance with international standards, to tackle people smugglers and to help prevent new migratory routes to the EU opening up. For its part, the EU will resettle Syrians currently in Turkey on a one-for-one basis where other Syrians are returned from Greece. The core intention of the agreement with Turkey is to break the business model of the people smugglers who are profiting from the suffering of the vulnerable and to stop migrants and asylum seekers attempting the treacherous and dangerous journey across the Aegean. We should never forget that Turkey itself has played a generous role in the current migration crisis and has accepted almost 3 million refugees from Syria. Part of our work with Turkey is to ensure that these refugees are receiving proper support. Over the next three years, the European Union and its member states will expend €3 billion on the Turkey refugee facility to ensure that refugees in Turkey are properly housed and educated. It is estimated that up to 400,000 refugee children in Turkey are not receiving education. We have also agreed that we will consider further funding when the current facility has concluded. It is highly unlikely, however, that the EU-Turkey agreement alone will resolve the crisis. It will not stop people leaving Syria and it will not prevent people from wanting to come to Europe. However, it should help to manage the flow of asylum seekers more effectively, more humanely and more fairly. Critically, it should stop people getting into unsafe boats and risking their lives.

Implementation will, as always, be crucial. Ireland will make its own contribution to this collective effort. Ireland is playing its part in ensuring that all asylum seekers arriving in Greece receive a fair hearing and that their applications are processed in full accordance with EU and international law. We have previously deployed two experts to the Greek island of Lesbos to support the European Asylum Support Office in the relocation process and we have nominated liaison officers to both Italy and Greece to support the work of the hotspots where migrants are registered. In addition, my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has nominated four international protection casework experts to the European Asylum Support Office for consideration for deployment to the Greek islands. Of these, two have been selected for immediate deployment and have already arrived in Lesbos. Ireland has also offered the services of two members of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal to support the establishment of appeals committees.

Due to its geographic location, Ireland has not been on the front line in trying to cope with the huge flow of migrants entering Europe. However, we are acutely conscious of the pressures faced by our fellow member states. As I mentioned earlier, these matters are discussed on a regular basis by EU Ministers, both formally and Informally. Last year the EU agreed to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from countries with an EU average 75% recognition rate for asylum among the member states. Although we enjoy an opt-out from the relevant EU justice and home affairs legislation, Ireland opted in to these decisions and voluntarily agreed to take more than 2,600 individuals on relocation. We have also agreed to take 520 on resettlement and have committed to accepting 4,000 individuals in total. To date, 273 people have been resettled - 263 - or relocated - ten - to Ireland since last summer. A taskforce was established by the Government under the direction of the Minister for Justice and Equality to address the practicality of accommodating and integrating the new arrivals. My Department is represented on the taskforce. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock, will speak in the House later about Ireland's humanitarian response to the migration and refugee crisis. As such, I do not propose to address that here.

Irregular migration is, of course, not solely or even primarily a European issue, it is a huge global challenge. The global migration crisis is, therefore, being addressed at the United Nations as a matter of the highest priority. Ireland was invited to co-facilitate with Jordan a major UN summit of world leaders on migration and refugees in New York in September. The summit will try to agree at Heads of Government level a new set of global policy principles - the first of their kind - on migration and refugees. Indications at this stage are that the agreed topics for discussion will include addressing the root causes of large-scale movements of refugees and migrants; protecting refugees and migrants, particularly women and children, in vulnerable situations; strengthening the resilience of refugees and host communities, and exploring within the framework of the 2030 development agenda the development of a global compact for safe, regular and orderly migration. Ireland has consistently taken the position that tackling the migration and refugee crisis must include comprehensive longer-term solutions that address the causes of such large-scale movements further upstream. We also believe strongly that it is only by working in a spirit of equality and partnership with countries of origin that long-term solutions will be found. We therefore welcome the summit as an opportunity for countries of origin, transit and destination to reach agreement on a way forward.

The current migration crisis is challenging governments in the developed and developing world. It is important that at national, European and international levels, governments craft responses which ensure the safety and dignity of the refugees, tackle the root causes of irregular migration and ensure that we retain the trust and confidence of our people. Ireland is playing its part in the effort to craft such responses and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

I had planned on saying something other than what I am about to say because I find it difficult not to run across the Chamber. It was upsetting listening to the Minister. He said that we needed to prevent conflicts from starting. How in God's name can he say that? He is allowing Shannon to be used as a US military airbase. We are giving permits for munitions and armed troops to pass through Ireland on the way to war fronts. How can the Minister say that we are interested in preventing conflicts from starting? That is too bad.

According to the Minister, the Turkish deal is tackling the business end of the problems and will stop the smugglers. On what planet is he living? We are feeding the smugglers. Turkey is a disaster and the deal is nonsense. Approximately ten people per week are being killed because of that deal. We are actually killing people with EU policies. We are drowning them. The Minister said that we would protect them. Five hundred people died ten days ago in one of the boats in question because of the Turkish deal. It will drive them across the Mediterranean, not stop them from coming. Closing off borders and building 30 ft. fences will not stop them. This is crazy.

I would wait until the Minister finishes his conversation.

No, he can talk away. He obviously does not listen even when he is looking at me.

Minister, I think that the Dáil-----

It is a disgrace. His conduct is despicable and shocking.

Deputy Wallace, please proceed.

As the Minister knows, we were in Calais and Dunkirk two weeks ago.

That is the place for you.

The smugglers there are the only people who are doing well. And they are doing really well. They are making more money now than they were six months ago because it has become more difficult to get in. Most people will get into Britain anyway. They just have to pay. Families are paying £20,000 to get to Britain from Dunkirk and Calais. As to where in God's name they are getting the money from, their cousins and other relations back home begged, borrowed and stole to get it. God help them if they believe that they will be in the promised land when they get to Britain or Ireland, but that is neither here nor there. The smugglers are making a fortune. They have doubled their fees lately. The minimum for an individual is £8,000. Most children are still chancing their arms on trucks. They try to jump up between the cab and the trailer in the middle of the night while it is still moving to get onto the roof or into the back. People are dying doing this.

We met so many young people, it was not funny. It is bad. We met many Irish people there working as volunteers who really cared. We met a man called Dylan Longman and another called Dave in Dunkirk. They have given up their lives to try to help people. Karen Moynihan, Sinead, Barbara and Fintan were in Calais. Many Irish families would like to help.

We were invited to dinner in a makeshift cabin in Calais by a man called Khan. Nine men, all from Afghanistan, were there. A couple of them told their stories, but most said that they could not because they were too upsetting. The youngest was 14 years of age, but the average age was 16 or 17. These are children. Could we do something just for minors? Could Ireland become a champion of refugee minors? Could we go to Calais and Dunkirk, process some of these people and see whether we could take them in? It would not cost the State a penny. Irish families are prepared to take them in. I promise to take one in myself.

I met a child of 15 years. He lost all of his family - his brothers, sisters, mother and father - on the Iran-Afghan border. He is 15, and he would like to come to Ireland or Britain. We have often argued in the Chamber that Ireland has great potential to play a positive role in world events as a neutral country, but we have been silent and complicit in the role played by the US, France and Britain in the militarisation of the planet. The Minister said that we wanted to address the causes, but we are quiet about Palestine and the genocide that Israel is trying to carry out there.

Someone from the Government should go to Calais - maybe someone has - and Dunkirk to see what is happening. The Afghans told us about a man who had to leave Afghanistan because one of his family members had worked with the US army, so the Taliban was after them. He spent six months in Calais, but could not take it anymore mentally. He turned himself in to the French authorities and they sent him back to Afghanistan. He was dead within two weeks. Afghanistan is controlled 50% by the Taliban and 50% by ISIS. Its Government is a sideshow. It is not a country to which people should be returned.

Calais is dominated by Afghans and Dunkirk mostly comprises Kurds. I would love to see people from those two nations welcomed in Ireland. The people whom we met were such good people. They are not looking for a free ride in any form. They would like to work and make new lives in Ireland where they would not be afraid of being killed. They are not terrorists. They are running from ISIS and the Taliban.

There is the potential for Ireland to take a different approach. We can do things differently. We can show that we care. I believe that most Irish people do, but the Government's approach has, sadly, been abysmal. I plead with it to send representatives to Dunkirk and Calais and set up a process whereby individuals can be screened, even if they are all under 18 years of age. Let us take minors. We cannot go wrong with that. The Government will find Irish families that are prepared to taken them in. They will not be a burden on the State. They will not have to go through the difficult direct provision process, which I had planned on discussing but will not now.

We are blessed in Ireland with opportunities. We are not afraid of bombs falling on us at night while we sleep. Generally speaking, we are not worried about where we will find our next bite of food; we are not dying of hunger. We seem to forget that these are not even economic migrants, which all of the Irish who left Ireland were. There are millions of Irish people all over the planet. Imagine if they were as unwelcome as the Afghans, Kurds and Syrians are in Ireland.

Please, let us consider this matter again.

This is an important subject and I am glad we have the opportunity to discuss it here today. As the Minister of State will know, for the past five years and the past two in particular this matter has been the subject of constant debate by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. Representatives of all parties and none took a very active part in the debates and meeting witnesses from various representative organisations and advocacy groups. Members listened to the representatives' very positive proposals on what the Government needed to pursue. In many instances, the stories we heard from individuals from Syria and elsewhere in that general region were absolutely harrowing. It was harrowing to hear of the barbarity, horror and suffering inflicted on millions of people. It is in that context that Deputy Wallace outlined very clearly and with great passion his concerns in regard to so many people suffering.

The Fianna Fáil Party recognises that this is a great humanitarian and political challenge for Europe, and Ireland must play its part in assisting those in need of refuge at home and providing help at front-line camps. We must also ensure that those who come to live in this country integrate into Irish society. As we have outlined in debates in the Dáil and various meetings of foreign affairs and justice committees, we must work with our EU colleagues and the international community to help bring an end to the civil war that is destabilising Syria and that has generated the refugee crisis. For the past five years, the civil war has been destabilising the entire region and much further afield.

There is no doubt but that the Syrian conflict is central to the refugee crisis and that an end to the conflict will help to alleviate the crisis in a big way. Resolving the conflict is critical but a key priority must be to aid its victims. This is a humanitarian crisis of unimaginable proportions. In this regard, we need only think of the fact that 11 million people have been displaced during this civil war. Some 4.5 million people have left for other countries and, sadly, many of them are living in desperate and distressing circumstances.

Our party, including my party leader and I as party spokesperson, has pointed out continually over the past few years that all of us and all countries have a basic moral duty to step up and do more. The deal with Turkey that has been referred to is most unlikely to deliver significant benefits and runs the very real risk of causing grave damage to fundamental principles of the European Union. As party spokesperson over recent months, I have made it clear that we will oppose any measures that go against clear legal obligations. Fianna Fáil believes that the European Union cannot undermine core values that it demands of all members and all countries that have automatic rights to access the Union.

I was struck by some work that Trócaire did on the deal between the European Union and Turkey. Trócaire, along with Oxfam, GOAL and so many other organisations, is doing tremendous work in so many conflict zones throughout the world and it does us all proud. We have had great dialogue with them and their front-line staff on the issues that need to be pursued by the international community, particularly by ourselves at European Union level.

Let me outline some of the key issues highlighted by Trócaire in regard to the EU–Turkey plan. It states:

- The EU-Turkey plan is not designed in the best interests of refugees and asylum seekers, including Syrian civilians, but is instead focuses on containing the flow of displaced people trying to reach European countries.

- The plan has the potential to seriously erode the crucial protection for refugees afforded them under international law by designating Turkey a safe third country – leading to potential violation of the principle of non-refoulement.

- With its focus on Syria, the deal risks creating a hierarchy of refugees which violates the fundamental principle that all asylum applications should be considered on their own merit, regardless of where the applicant is from.

- The EU and Turkey’s assurance that asylum seekers will not have their rights violated, that they will have their asylum claims reviewed on an individual basis and that no one will be victims of collective expulsions, is not convincing given the scale of the numbers involved and the timeline proposed – both of which raises serious concerns about the ability of the EU and Turkey to deliver on these commitments.

- The EU-Turkey plan damages the credibility of the EU, undermines the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid and sets a dangerous precedent of principled humanitarian donors motivated by political agendas.

Those are very strong arguments made by Trócaire and, since the organisation is an important national non-governmental organisation and a partner of other international, very credible and honourable non-governmental organisations, they have to be considered. Trócaire's views must be taken into account.

Let me refer to a few parliamentary questions that I tabled for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in recent times. In regard to the EU–Turkey deal, he stated:

It is unlikely that this agreement alone will resolve the migration crisis. It will not stop people leaving Syria, and it will not prevent people from wanting to come to Europe.

It is, therefore, apparent that this crisis is far from over and far from being resolved, unfortunately.

The Minister stated the following about the EU–Turkey deal in further information received in response to a parliamentary question:

The need to comply with international law was at the heart of the March European Council discussions. The legal advice of the EU institutions was that there is such compliance.

However, I believe we must continue to monitor the agreement and continually assess its impact and whether it is complying with international human rights laws and upholding the rights of refugees.

As we all know, Ireland has spent a considerable amount of money trying to address the Syrian crisis. We welcome the Government’s commitment over recent years in that respect. According to information supplied to me consequent to my tabling of another parliamentary question, the Minister stated: "At the London Pledging Conference on Syria in February 2016, Ireland pledged €20 million in support for the Syria crisis this year, on top of the €42 million in humanitarian assistance which we have already provided since 2012. Ireland’s humanitarian assistance is delivered through UN, Red Cross and NGO partners". We all want to be part of that response as individuals, public representatives and members of society, and we want to play an active financial role in trying to assist with the crisis. However, while this aid is much needed, it is essential that we not only uphold our financial commitments to help address this crisis but that we also uphold our moral and legal commitments. We cannot ignore the views of organisations that have expressed serious concerns over this deal. They are raising valid points and we must question the implications that this deal will have and the precedent it will set regarding the treatment of refugees in the future.

From more information provided in the response to a parliamentary question, I note that Ireland has deployed some experts on asylum to a Greek island. I welcome that. The experts were deployed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and some officials were deployed by the Department of Justice and Equality.

We had debates in this House following the horrors inflicted on the populations in Paris and in Belgium. I refer to the international crisis. We must not let the terrible terrorist attacks be used as an excuse to reject offering any refuge to those fleeing conflict, and we must oppose that. We believe the vast majority of those seeking refuge in the European Union are trying to escape the horrors of conflicts and the ravages of war. While I believe Ireland must play a part in providing a safe haven for those escaping conflict, we must put in place robust safeguards to ensure those who seek refuge in Europe, including Ireland, are genuine migrants. What happened recently in Brussels and Paris must not prevent us from taking a responsible and collective approach to the migrant crisis. I reaffirm the support of our party for a fair, equitable and proportionate EU resettlement programme to address the migrant challenge. Unfortunately, that programme has not yet been put in place.

The attacks in Belgium and the previous attacks in Paris signify that there are organisations and groups that detest the European way of life and all we hold dear, namely, solidarity, freedom and democracy. Such hatred cannot be allowed to fester and grow, and it is clear that a co-ordinated European response is required to rid the world of this terrible evil. The terrible atrocities in Brussels should be used to unite Europe, and the events will not be used as a catalyst to undermine European cohesion and solidarity.

In a recent vote in the House of Commons, members voted by 278 to zero to declare that genocide is being perpetrated against Christians, Yazidis and others in Syria and Iraq.

As a sovereign State, we should impress on the United Nations Security Council the need to refer this matter to the International Criminal Court to have these horrors declared as genocide. There would be no point in having these atrocities declared as genocide 20 years from now. Such a declaration should be made now.

People who know my background will be aware that I am not fond of citing speakers in the House of Commons or the British Parliament in general. I was struck recently, however, by a report on a debate which had been initiated by a group of British parliamentarians to have what had happened in Syria and Iraq declared as genocide. I refer, in particular, to comments made by Ms Fiona Bruce, MP. As I indicated, we met organisations representing individuals who had endured the trauma of fleeing Syria where great suffering had been inflicted on many people. Ms Bruce spoke about the truly harrowing personal testimony of a 16 year old Yazidi girl who had been seized with others from her community by ISIS fighters and witnessed her father and brother being killed in front of her. The teenager spoke about how every girl in her community aged over eight years, including her, had been imprisoned and raped. Ms Bruce stated the girl "spoke of witnessing her friends being raped and hearing their screams, of seeing a girl aged nine being raped by so many men that she died." She also noted that MPs had heard from another woman who had come directly from Syria and spoke about Christians being killed and tortured, children being beheaded in front of their parents and mothers who had seen their children crucified. Yazidis and Christians had, Ms Bruce said, been targeted explicitly because of their religion and ethnicity. When we hear about these harrowing experiences - the word "harrowing" is not strong enough to describe them - can we not say the international community is failing to live up to its responsibilities to try to give some protection to innocent people?

In the short time available to me I propose to outline the response of the Government, through Irish Aid, to the crisis in Syria. I am pleased to have had the privilege of leading Irish Aid's response in the past two years, as Minister of State with responsibility for development and trade. Next month the first ever world humanitarian summit will be held in Istanbul. It was called by the United Nations Secretary General. The summit's host country, Turkey, has also become host to the world's largest refugee population in the past five years, with more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees living in the country.

As the refugee crisis has unfolded in the Middle East, the Government has been responding, on behalf of the Irish people, through Irish Aid. By the end of the year, we will have provided €62 million for the Syrian crisis alone. We have made specific efforts in support of our European partners, in particular, Greece and the Balkans. We provide core support for the Red Cross and the UN High Commission for Refugees which have been particularly active in meeting the immediate needs of refugees in Europe. Since the start of 2015 Irish Aid has provided €180,000 specifically to support the work of non-governmental organisation, NGO, partners in Macedonia alone. Under Ireland's rapid response initiative, we have also deployed two rapid responders to Serbia and Macedonia and a further two to Greece. A further deployment next week will support the UNHCR's provision of water and sanitation services for refugees there.

Those arriving in Europe start their journey in many places. In the past decade most migrants arrived from sub-Saharan and north Africa. However, the Syrian conflict has dramatically changed the profile of migrant flows and Syrians are now the largest group arriving in Europe, accounting for almost half of those arriving in Greece last year. Last month marked the fifth anniversary of the start of the brutal Syrian conflict which the United Nations estimates has caused up to 400,000 deaths. The continued violence and war crimes which have forced millions of Syrians to flee their homes and country must end and those responsible must be held accountable. To echo the point made by Deputy Brendan Smith, Ireland firmly believes the UN Security Council should refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. Ireland urges all sides in the Geneva negotiations to support a political resolution of the conflict and the formation of a representative transitional government. While a political solution is desperately needed, sadly, it is not clear that one will be achieved soon. Needs are rising to the point at which the global humanitarian response cannot keep up with them.

Ireland has been providing assistance for Syrians since 2012 and this aid has been scaled up as the impact of the conflict has worsened. More than 4.8 million people have already had to leave Syria. In 2015 Ireland provided more than €13 million in assistance for the country. In February, at the London pledging conference on Syria, I committed Ireland to providing a further €20 million in 2016.

Irish Aid funding is supporting Irish non-governmental organisations, including Concern, GOAL and Trócaire, in their work with refugees in Syria and the surrounding region. The statistics for the numbers affected by the Syria crisis and the amount of funding needed to meet their needs are so staggering that the human stories behind the numbers are often forgotten. Previous speakers articulated details of individual cases. Last October I visited the refugee camp in Azraq, Jordan. In one of the shelters I met a mother who had given birth to her third child at a border post without medical assistance. She and her children subsequently presented to a Red Cross hospital in the UN camp in Azraq. When one considers that the average displacement period of refugee children is 17 years, one wonders what the future holds for her child. How will they grow up? If the family left a neighbourhood in Syria where schools have been bombed before presenting in highly traumatic circumstances to a refugee camp in a place such as Azraq, how will the children fulfil their destiny, if one wills, if they have been traumatised to such an extent that they cannot present to the local school in the refugee camp?

We are leaving a whole generation behind. Irish people are doing what they can in our external response through the aid agencies and multilateral organisations. We are ensuring daily, whether through diplomatic channels or the work we do with individual aid agencies, that we influence the work being done on the ground in order that the people we are trying to help can at least have some semblance of hope for the future. The global humanitarian crisis has resulted in the displacement of at least 56 million people who will need humanitarian assistance. The countries affected include Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and northern Nigeria. These conflicts may not yet have pricked the consciousness of many Irish people, but the world humanitarian summit presents us with an opportunity. I am hopeful the next Taoiseach, whoever he may be, and the President will attend to give voice to Ireland's position on the need for global leadership to prevent and end conflicts of this nature.

The majority of global crises are protracted and last over a decade or more. I hope we can continue as a nation to play our role and hope that in the new politics of this House, we can find mechanisms through the committees to enable us come together and form a common bond regarding how this Parliament, as representative of the people, can best represent how taxpayers invest their hard-earned money in meeting the needs of the people we have been speaking for here today. We have an opportunity to continue in that vein.

I will finish with the words of W.H. Auden. Today is poetry day Ireland and these words are from Auden's poem Refugee Blues:

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,

Look in the atlas and you'll find it there:

We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,

Every spring it blossoms anew:

Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that.

I call Deputy David Cullinane, who is sharing time with Deputy Imelda Munster.

Approximately 800,000 people have crossed borders into Europe this year. Some have fled conflict and persecution and are seeking asylum, while others are escaping extreme poverty in search of a better life. The majority have come from Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq, with a smaller number having travelled from Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan and other countries.

Since the beginning of 2015, a staggering 3,400 people have died or gone missing along the treacherous routes across the sea to Greece, Italy and Turkey or overland through the western Balkans. As we know, along with these 3,400 people, tens of thousands of more have died over the past number of years. For every one of those, a family is left behind. These people were fathers, mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers and in some cases children. We have heard some passionate speeches from people who have been at the coalface of what is happening and who have visited some of the countries people are fleeing from for their lives. There they have seen aid workers, including Irish people, trying to do their best to help and have seen the human suffering and the reality of the experience of these people. These people are in desperate situations and are fleeing for their lives and those of their families, often with their children but with no possessions or money. They are just trying to escape from the desperate situation in their countries.

This is almost impossible for us to comprehend because we live in a peaceful and relatively wealthy country. We in this Chamber have decent salaries and can go home to homes where our children are safe. We can put them to bed at night knowing we can get up in the morning without the worry of having to find a place to live or without the worry about what might happen to them or their siblings or other family members. This is a reality so many of these people do not have. This is a humanitarian crisis of enormous magnitude. The European Union as a body and all of Europe, collectively, has failed these people. The European response has been quite shocking and appalling. It is obvious that regardless of the context from which these people have fled, they share an experience of desperation so great that they are willing to risk their lives. So many of them have done that. They know that when they take these journeys, they may not get to their destination but they take them anyway because of their experience and the dangers they face in their own countries.

As some European countries tighten border controls or close borders completely, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to identify safe routes and secure options for migration and settlement. Political leadership is vital and while we have not seen much such leadership across Europe, there has been some and some countries have done better than others. However, we need to stand united in a fight against discrimination, exclusion, racism and Islamophobia. As someone who comes from the progressive side of politics, the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, knows that the failure of politics is leading to this humanitarian crisis. The failure of politics to face up to the discrimination, exclusion, racism and the type of war we are seeing in these countries creates a vacuum and gives succour to the far right and reactionary forces across Europe. We face a real challenge and all progressive politicians must face that and show political leadership but unfortunately we have not seen much of it. Upholding human rights and humanitarian values, along with our collective international obligations for people seeking protection, is critical at this time.

There is much I could say about the EU-Turkey deal but unfortunately my time is up. The deal is scandalous. This response of the European Union is pathetic. It is a deal that sees what are called "irregular" migrants having to be returned. It is not a policy of resettlement, of reaching out or of dealing with the issue in a humanitarian way. Where is the compassion and humanity in the deal? There is none. It is shameful that our Government and this State was part of that. We can do more, even in this State alone. The tiny number of people we have welcomed and resettled here is a shocking response to this humanitarian crisis.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this topic today. However, I am concerned that this is the only debate we are likely to have on this issue for some time as there seems to be a lack of political will to face up to the reality of the devastating crisis that we face as Europeans.

If I or any of my colleagues in this Chamber were consistently marginalised and refused an opportunity to speak, an opportunity to have our voices heard or an opportunity to stand up for the people who elected us, that would be viewed as an infringement of our civil liberties as public representatives. There would be uproar, as we claim the right to speak as elected representatives who deserve to be treated justly and fairly as equals. Upholding civil liberties and human rights is vital in every civil society. We are the first to defend our own. We love our own and yet we seem to have a significant issue with people who are viewed as the other or somewhat different.

This is particularly evident when we speak about those from the Middle East, those people who travel from war torn countries in the hope of escaping death and obtaining the safety that every human being, regardless of race or creed, deserves. These people are made out to be somewhat alien by media. Take for example the refugee camp in Calais. This camp is regularly referred to as "The Jungle". I doubt this is down to an abundance of luscious rivers and trees but rather a view of those that living there. I do not know whether the term is intentionally racist but am hugely uneasy with the term and the fact it seems to be generally accepted without question. We reduce people to numbers, to the point of being subhuman. We reduce people to habitants of that so-called "jungle" to the point that they can be referred to as animals or, as one journalist put it, "cockroaches". These points in and of themselves are a mandate to disregard and violate the basic human rights of the refugees. The reduction of any people's status as human beings in the past has not gone well and has always resulted in significant numbers of deaths and even world wars.

We have pushed the responsibility of other countries as part of an agenda to facilitate an intake of refugees into Europe.

However, we seem to have somewhat absolved ourselves of our own responsibilities, forgetting that we have just as much an obligation as those countries we are compelling to take astronomical numbers of refugees. Whether we like it or not, we are part of a Union that chooses to support other member nations, at least in theory.

The penny still has not dropped that 11 million people have been displaced from Syria, the largest displacement of people since the Second World War. Despite this, the number of Syrian refugees expected to arrive in this State this year is approximately 350, well short of the 4,000 people stated last year. This is not good enough. The deal that has been brokered between the EU and Turkey further supports the points that I have outlined above. Human rights organisations have raised what I consider to be some very valid concerns. I call on this Chamber to support the voices of these organisations, especially that of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. We need to knock our heads together and to oppose the current deal from a human rights perspective and with an approach that does not disregard the horrible situations these people are fleeing. We should also stop viewing refugees as an economic issue. We need to step up, stand up and take responsibility because the fallout here could be devastating.

As far back as September 2015 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the current situation was primarily a refugee crisis. Notwithstanding that, today we have a mixture of talk about migration and refugees. The Commissioner said the vast majority of those arriving in Greece come from conflict zones such as Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan and they are simply running for their lives. All people on the move in these tragic circumstances deserve to have their human rights and dignity fully respected, independently of their legal status. The Commissioner went on to say that thousands of refugee parents are risking the lives of their children on unsafe smuggling boats primarily because they have no other choice.

Figures compiled by the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees and the Turkish Government show the number of Syrians who have sought refuge in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and north Africa is 4.1 million and rising, a figure that has been mentioned many times in this debate. The number of Syrian refugees registered in the region now stands at 17.5% of the Syrian population. On top of this, 7.6 million people are estimated to be displaced within Syria. There are 1.3 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 20% of the population, and this is the equivalent of Europe playing host to 100 million refugees. Pakistan and Iran have each taken over 1 million refugees. What seems to be happening is that the poorest countries in the world already bear the greatest burden when it comes to housing refugees or helping them. If these countries were to adopt the attitude that fortress Europe has adopted we would have an enormous humanitarian catastrophe on our hands. This is the most immoral aspect of the EU's policy because at its heart it says the poorer countries should deal with it.

I will come back to the question of criticism of Turkey, but the sordid deal agreed with that country in March of this year is appalling. Despite being a country that has only a seventh of the EU population, it is taking in 3 million refugees so that we do not have to deal with them. Not only that, we are going to pay them for it - €3 billion to be followed by another €3 billion at a later stage. However, the only comment from the Minister on this matter was to correct a Deputy on the other side who said it was €6 billion altogether, rather than explain to us how this sordid and reprehensible agreement was carried out in our name. That is the least I would have expected from a reformed Dáil.

What have we done in addition to that deal? We have colluded with Shannon Airport, and I agree totally with Deputy Wallace on the misuse and abuse of Shannon in our name. We allow American troops to go through on a daily basis, carrying arms to carry out wars in other countries but there is not one word of it in this Chamber. We passed the International Protection Act 2015, which was guillotined through the Dáil to replace the Refugee Act of earlier times and which the Irish Refugee Council described as a step backwards. We have stood over direct provision since 2000. The McMahon report lies somewhere but it was not mentioned today by any Minister. Where is that report, a Cheann Comhairle? You might have heard of it. It has been out for nine months and nobody has seen fit to raise it or talk about it.

The executive summary of the report of the working group on the protection process is before me, which is very interesting. It set out some basic facts and recommendations relating to direct provision. Under the new politics and our new approach, I would have thought one Minister would have outlined the inadequacies of direct provision and how they were being addressed. The Tánaiste, and leader of what was once a proud Labour Party, came into the House and told us that refugees really wanted to go back home and we should recognise that. She said we should also look to bring peace to the area but that we should not look at Shannon or the EU's role in standing by nations which are actively creating war and, therefore, refugees.

I would have thought somebody would have referred to the summary document, the recommendations contained therein and the facts. Direct provision was set up in 2000 as a temporary measure. Sixteen years later we have over 7,000 in direct provision, effectively imprisoned and cut off from the community so that they cannot learn from the community and the community cannot learn from them. Some 55% of the total have been in direct provision for more than five years and 21% are children. Even those who have acquired status remain in direct provision for up to ten months because the Department of Social Protection does not recognise the address of a direct provision hostel as a suitable address for obtaining State benefits. This document has come up with cost-saving recommendations that would save the Government money on direct provision, notwithstanding that the criteria set for the report were very limited and the people who worked on it were not allowed to consider other ways of dealing with asylum seekers in this country. The measures they came up with included increasing the amount of money given to a child, looking at adult education and different types of provision within the system but nobody has mentioned their proposals today.

This House should stand together and deplore the deal that has been done in our name with Turkey. Turkey has not complied with all its obligations under the convention on refugees. Amnesty International, the Irish Refugee Council and many other organisations have raised concerns about Turkey's human rights record and we should come together now to ask how this agreement could be made in our name. Why did no Minister come to the House today to explain what role we had in the deal and what we have learned from it? This deal will certainly not resolve the refugee crisis or the migrant crisis. It is time for us to lead.

This is only a small country. We say we are playing our part, but the figures for what the country has taken are minimal. The acting Tánaiste has not looked at our fault in taking in such a minimal amount. She criticised the organisations involved and the slow process, as if the Government had nothing to do with it. Because of our history most people in Ireland have an open heart about the acceptance of refugees and it is time we led and built on this. It is also time we stopped direct provision. It is not good for the people in the system, this country or the image portrayed of people caught in direct provision centres who do not work. None of this is of their making. All of it is contained in the document that was not discussed or referred to today. It absolutely beggars belief.

I was anxious to take the opportunity to speak about the refugee and migration crisis in the Mediterranean. I speak both as acting Minister for Defence and acting Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Both Departments have taken responsibility to play a small part in trying to respond to what is an extraordinary challenge, not only for Ireland but also for the European Union and others.

The deployment of Irish naval vessels to the Mediterranean to engage in humanitarian search and rescue tasks is an important element of Ireland's response to the migration crisis. In the period from January to the end of March almost 164,000 people crossed into Europe, nearly all of them by sea, with 92% travelling through the eastern Mediterranean route to Greece and less than 8% through the central Mediterranean route. The European Union, through Operation Sophia, and NATO are both now active in the eastern and central Mediterranean. We should continue to support Italy in a practical manner as far as possible. The Italian authorities have indicated that ongoing support for them on a bilateral basis is welcome. Following a Government decision on 12 May 2015, the Irish naval vessel LE Eithne was deployed to the Mediterranean on 16 May to assist the Italian authorities with the migrant crisis from a humanitarian and search and rescue perspective. Two further vessels, the LE Niamh and LE Samuel Beckett, were deployed. The deployment was completed on 29 November 2015, with the LE Samuel Beckett arriving back to Ireland on 17 December. During that period over 8,500 people were rescued in the Mediterranean by Irish naval vessels.

The humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean continues to be of great concern to many, not only in this House, as Members have outlined, but also throughout Ireland. On 6 April the Government approved the return of an Irish naval vessel to undertake humanitarian search and rescue tasks in the Mediterranean, subject to finalisation of operational arrangements with the Italians. I am able to announce that the LE Róisín will depart the naval base in Haulbowline next Sunday to assist the Italian authorities in search and rescue activities in the Mediterranean. Subject to operational demands and the requirements of the mission, it is intended that there will be two further rotations, with each deployment lasting approximately 12 weeks, that is, up to the maximum of three Naval Service vessels deployed over the course of 2016 during the main migrant season, as it is now called. It is an almost dehumanising term, but it reflects the fact that in the summer months when the weather gets better, the number of refugees attempting to cross in extremely dangerous conditions increases dramatically.

The role of the Irish naval vessel which will provide a search and rescue capability and undertake humanitarian search and rescue missions will be a significant contribution in the coming months. Assistance for persons in distress at sea will be provided in accordance with the applicable provisions of international conventions governing search and rescue missions. The co-ordination of search and rescue efforts and the provision of humanitarian assistance will be achieved through close co-operation with our partners in the Italian coastguard and defence forces. The dispatch of an Irish vessel represents a tangible and valuable Irish contribution to assisting with the continuing migration crisis in the Mediterranean.

I was recently briefed on the numbers involved. On the beaches and shorelines of Libya almost 1 million people are waiting to cross the Mediterranean, through traffickers, on boats which they know have no chance of crossing but which they hope will be picked up by search and rescue teams such as ours. The extent of the tragedy is clear. The more one understands the detail of it and sees the images that have come back from our naval vessels to date, the more one realises the responsibility we all have, as politicians, to try to find broader and more ambitious political solutions to an extraordinary human tragedy. Many watch it on their television screens but find it hard to get their heads around it in terms of its scale. We are talking about the equivalent of the population of Munster in shanty towns on beaches waiting to be herded like cattle onto boats that they know will not take them across the Mediterranean but which they hope will be rescued. Children are very much part of that mix, as well as pregnant women and vulnerable individuals. It is horrific.

I have spoken to many of our Naval Service personnel and was on our naval vessels in the Mediterranean last year. It is one of the great challenges of our time for Europe. As regards the idea that we can do some deal with Turkey that will solve this problem, I doubt anybody accepts this as a solution. It is simply a medium-term alleviation measure, if one can call it that, to try to lessen the mass movement of people coming through that route. I am not comfortable, as I suspect others are not, with the idea that we essentially outsource the problem to a neighbour when Europe, as a collective, working in partnership in Turkey, must find more lasting and humane solutions to the extraordinary problem of the mass movement of refugees away from war zones and horrific situations. These are people who need support, as well as homes, given the experiences and places they have left.

There have been significant developments relating to migration which have been considered at numerous European Council meetings, leading to the agreement with Turkey on the return of some migrants. The issue is complex and continually changing and evolving. We have not yet seen what impact developments in Libya and Syria will have on the agreement with Turkey, but I suspect they will add to the problem. I am anxious that we continue to support Italy in a practical manner as far as possible. We can talk, take stands and express understandable outrage here, but what are we doing in practise to help the people concerned? That is what interests me as acting Minister for Defence. At 11 a.m. next Sunday I will be speaking to a crew which will be heading to the Mediterranean for the next nine to 12 weeks to try to make a practical difference and save people's lives. I am not saying that is the answer; it is not. It is just a small contribution to trying to help in dealing with an extraordinarily difficult and complex political problem, as well as a practical and military problem.

The success of the operations carried out in 2015 demonstrated the value of Ireland's participation in this important humanitarian mission. The country was proud of the Naval Service in a way it might not have been previously. We are all very proud of the work the Army and the Air Corps do when they are on peacekeeping missions abroad, but this was the first time we really challenged the Naval Service to do something demanding in an unknown theatre, to use a military term. We were expecting to play a role, but nobody could have predicted the rescue of between 8,500 and 9,000 people over three rotations.

This is quite extraordinary. I have previously confirmed that an international operational service medal will be awarded to those personnel involved in the missions in the Mediterranean. The qualifying criteria have been finalised by the Department and earlier today I signed the amending relevant Defence Forces regulation. This is why I am particularly pleased to say to families of those who served in an heroic way last year in the Mediterranean that they will see their loved ones get permanent recognition through the awarding of the medal which I signed off this morning. The LE Róisín is ready to continue the remarkable work carried out by the LE Eithne, the LE Niamh and the LE Samuel Beckett last year. I wish Lieutenant Commander Ultan Finegan and each and every member of the crew of the LE Róisín a safe and successful mission.

As the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, I am conscious the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has a role to play. We have a very special relationship with the World Food Programme. Last year during the Expo events in Italy, I felt it was important that Ireland made a real statement regarding assistance for people in refugee camps who have nothing because of the issues we are all debating today. We have trebled the contribution from the Department to the UN World Food Programme to €60 million, with a specific request that it be targeted at refugees, in particular Syrian refugees. This is because of the extreme and difficult situation experienced in refugee camps which are simply overcrowded and overloaded. I hope people will take some solace from this. We committed €20 million a year for three years from last year, which is a commitment of €60 million guaranteed funding for the World Food Programme specifically to alleviate the concerns of many Syrian and other refugees in camps managed by the UN World Food Programme. It is by far the world's largest humanitarian organisation, and the idea it does not know how much funding it will have from year to year is a disgraceful situation which we are trying to change. I hope that by Ireland making a contribution for multiannual funding to the UN World Food Programme, we will be able to give an example to other countries to do the same, so it can plan ahead in a much more effective way with regard to managing refugee camps in particular and with regard to the other work it does, such as nutrition, knowing it will have budgets to spend not only this year but next year and into the future.

I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words on this very serious issue, which is the EU migrant and refugee crisis. What struck me about the contributions of other Members was the seriousness with which they have looked at this. The previous speaker mentioned the inhumane term, "the migrant season", but what was on our television screens last summer and across the newspapers of the world outraged us. I have been looking at it and considering it very carefully. Many fine books have been written, and continue to be published, by many fine authors on the humanitarian crisis that followed the Second World War, how that developed, the various concentration camps, the various issues which arose and the reasons for that humanitarian crisis. Historians have devoted a massive amount of time to it. Almost every Sunday, in the various magazines of the Sunday newspapers, there is a review of another great book on the humanitarian crisis that followed the Second World War, or that took place during the Second World War. There are also many commentaries and discussions on the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and other massive theses written on what has happened in the world.

As we look at the crisis that has unfolded over recent years, particularly since the Arab Spring and what happened five years ago, we have to be very honest with ourselves. We can challenge what we are doing as a European Community and as a part of that in terms of the Turkish deal and any of the other matters put forward but we have to be very serious with ourselves. The United Nations is very well-resourced and has had huge respect since it was established after the Second World War but does it have the teeth? People spoke during the debate about the source of the crisis and referred to Ireland during the Famine years and the abject poverty and the horrendous conditions our people faced at the time. We have to go to the source of the problem. The source of the problem is what is happening in Syria and other places. Why is that allowed? Why is that ungovernable territory, or ungoverned territory, as it certainly is governable, not being dealt with by the United Nations? If we look at our own humanitarian crisis, which we had during the Famine, there is no doubt that the source was the total disrespect paid to the crisis by the central government we were under at the time.

To solve the issue, we have to deal with the humanitarian crisis. A total of 1 million displaced people are on beaches and in shantytowns. We must pay tribute to the many people working there in a voluntary capacity. Many fine people are leaving their own cushy numbers and are going out to work on the humanitarian crisis in a voluntary capacity. We would like to pay tribute to all of those people from Ireland who have gone to various crisis points in the world over the past centuries. During the humanitarian crisis in Rwanda, a constituent of mine and a family friend, Fr. Bertie Doherty, was out there. He met the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, David Andrews, back in 1998 and outlined the crisis. It was almost like feeding animals what they were trying to do to try to bring some sort of normality. Many fine people from religious orders have gone out in a voluntary capacity to crises in the world. We have to pay tribute to them and accept the great work they have done.

We have to accept what the Naval Service is doing but as a global community, we have to ask whether the United Nations, which is well-resourced and which has people of very fine status and very hard-working and diligent people, has the real power to tackle the crisis. This has been going on for five years, since 2011, and it has manifested itself over the past year and a half or two years in particular because of what it happening in the home countries of the people involved. None of the people queueing up on the beaches or the 1 million people who are displaced want to leave their homes but because of persecution and the huge challenges they face in carrying out their daily lives, they are leaving their homes with a view to going somewhere better. It is perceived that life in Europe is far better. They are making gambles beyond gambles to try to get there.

The United Nations is the international body and the European Community has been established. If we strip it all back, the European Community was established after the humanitarian crisis of the Second World War and what ensued from 1939 to 1945. Many people visit the bureaucratic city that is Brussels, and some people will say it is a bureaucratic nightmare, but it certainly is far better to have a European Community that is working to ensure we will never again repeat the mistakes made during the First World War and the Second World War. Therefore, the European Community has been successful in this. Now it is a challenge for the international community to come together to try to solve this issue. As I have stated, we have to deal with the crisis that is there but we have to challenge the international community because we can no longer pay lip-service to it.

The word "humanitarian" was mentioned in many of the fine contributions made by other Members with regard to the humanitarian crisis and the humanitarian work being done and I commend them for this.

However, let us be absolutely practical and honest with ourselves. The source of the problem was the 2011 Arab Spring. The crisis is continuing to manifest itself and to generate more refugees. It is harrowing to see women, children and families torn apart and to see what is going on, but are we doing enough? Are there too many powerful states in the world that are not being challenged or asked to account for themselves? What is going on in those states? Are we not proactive enough? Is it time that the international community considered the structures of the United Nations? It is a very fine body with very fine people, but is it time to say where that crisis in 2011 started and to examine the various funding mechanisms that were given to the rebels and other people involved? Is there a major issue worldwide?

In the 1960s and 1970s the major issue was the nuclear arms race, and huge efforts were made on an international-community-wide basis to try to bring that under control. The Middle East and north Africa certainly have been very challenged and troubled for a long time. We are part of the European Union. That is a very powerful international body. There are other countries and conglomerations of countries that need to play their part, but the source of the problem must be tackled. There is an old saying about teaching a man to fish or giving him a fish. We must turn our focus back on these countries and see whether we can get proper governance in them so that people can live in their own communities in a safe and friendly manner. That is the only way that we can reasonably tackle this humanitarian crisis.

Other Deputies have asked what Ireland is doing. However, we need to make sure that we challenge the international community and tell it that it is time to step up to the plate. In 50 years' time many fine historians will again be writing about the humanitarian crisis of these years in the very same way that they write about the humanitarian crisis during the Second World War and its aftermath and interpret the causes of it. Now is our time to stand up and say that these are the crises that are facing us internationally at the moment and that we need to do something more proactive about them as an international community than what we have been doing to date.

I wish to begin my contribution to this important debate by moving on somewhat from discussing in detail the causes and consequences of the tragic refugee crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean and eastern Europe. I do so because, although there are many important components to the overall debate, there are many outstanding issues which need to be resolved in this State and which, if not continuously highlighted at the highest political level, will lead to even greater long-term suffering for the many more refugees and their families who are expected to arrive in Ireland over the coming months and years. They will include refugees fleeing the war in Syria and the Middle East. I want to focus instead on three key areas which need to be addressed by the Government as we go forward. We need to do so in order to make the entire refugee process here better and more humane for applicants. We need to have greater empathy as a State in this regard.

The first issue I want to raise is that of delays. I am sure Deputies are very much aware that many refugee status applicants in this country have been stuck in the direct provision system for over eight years before their applications have been resolved fully. I personally know many people who have had similar delays in reaching a final decision. While understanding the different types of application and the legal issues involved, be it subsidiary protection or leave to remain, I do not believe that delays of this length are acceptable now, nor were they in the past. The fact that such delays have been allowed to continue until now has done both the Irish State and the human beings involved no good whatsoever. I read in the Oireachtas Library that the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner believes that refugee status applications saw an increase of 126% in 2015 on the 2014 figure and that family reunification applications also increased by 63% from the previous year. Increased demand this year has clearly had a drastic effect on already long waiting times for decisions and information.

What is to be gained by leaving refugee status applicants to their own devices, often sitting bored and unchallenged in small, cramped conditions? Should there be a State intervention which would allow these people to contribute in a better way to the communities in which they live? At present applicants have no right to work here, can do very little with their time and have to make do with €19.10 per week, which they receive from the State while they wait for the decision to arrive. Who does this benefit? I am not sure if there is a precedent in Europe, but surely there must be a better way of conducting this situation for all involved while these waiting lists remain very long.

The next issue I want to raise is that of applicants' access to their legal information. At present there is a major problem with the way some legal professionals who are appointed to represent particular refugee status applicants operate. I would even go so far as to say that it is borderline negligence at times. The State pays many legal professionals large amounts of taxpayers' money in order to represent particular refugee status applicants through all stages of their application in this country. However, on many occasions in the numerous cases which I have dealt with, the applicants cannot get in contact with their solicitors. They cannot receive responses to their queries or get appointments to discuss their cases face to face with their State-subsidised legal representation. This is not good enough. Often in such situations I take the liberty to try to contact these legal offices on the applicant's behalf and even I, as an elected representative, find it difficult to break down the barriers and get a response. This issue needs to change. It should not be this difficult to access simple information. The location of these legal professionals selected is another major issue. For example, many applicants who reside in Globe House in Sligo have been appointed solicitors in Galway or Dublin or further afield. This makes the communications issue I highlighted even more difficult and only adds to the difficulties faced by refugees. The changes currently being made by the Department of Justice regarding the implementation of the new International Protection Bill need to consider this aspect closely, and measures need to be taken to make it easier for refugees to access their legal information.

There continues to be many issues with the way the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, conducts its business. As a public representative, I have made countless representations to INIS over the last five years and throughout the course of the Thirty-first Dáil. I often found the process quite tiresome. Refugees, visa applicants and other service users who have exhausted every avenue in trying to get simple information from INIS and their legal teams often end up calling to my office as a last resort to seek often very trivial information. When I write to INIS, it can take anything up to ten working days to receive a reply at peak times. I want to see a system in place whereby refugees or visa applicants are sent direct monthly updates as to the position of their appeals or applications and I believe that they should be better informed throughout the entire process of the timelines involved.

Like many of my colleagues in this House, I was very happy to support the International Protection Bill during its passage through the Oireachtas. This Bill will go a long way towards improving waiting lists and adding an extra human approach to proceedings. However, we need to see the components of the Bill introduced much more quickly. I have submitted Parliamentary Questions about the length of time it will take to introduce the Bill here and have requested details on the staffing arrangements for the new agencies which will be created. I am still unclear as to the developments. However, simply changing the names of the old agencies without adding additional staffing resources will not have any effect on the delays involved, which are caused by capacity issues. We need to put in place more quickly the proposed single mechanism structure in order to speed up the application process and cut down long delays. I also want to suggest to the Minister the need to create regional INIS and refugee status application representation offices.

That would reduce the major burden at the current locations in Dublin and also benefit applicants and citizens travelling from outside the capital.

I reiterate that any person who does not have a legal right to be in the country should be removed as quickly as possible. However, those who meet our criteria should be allowed to get through the process and begin to contribute to Irish society more quickly. There are many examples of persons who eventually got through the process, who now have Stamp 4 visas, set up their own businesses or have full-time jobs and are fully integrated into society and contributing to the economy.

It is welcome that the current system is undergoing a long overdue overhaul. However, the provision of resources at the INIS, long delays in processing applications and accessing legal information and the introduction of the new single mechanism system are major issues which needs be addressed.

Is Deputy John Brady sharing time with Deputy Martin Ferris?

That was to be the case. He might be here shortly.

I will start by addressing some of the language being used by some of my colleagues across the Chamber. There is nothing wrong with being a migrant. Certainly, we, in Ireland, should know this, but we should also know that refugees are not migrants; it is a refugee crisis about which we are talking. There is nothing wrong with seeking a better life where one can find it, but refugees are simply seeking to live. As the poet Warsan Shire wrote in her poem "Home":

you have to understand,

that no one puts their children in a boat,

unless the water is safer than the land,

no one burns their palms,

under trains,

beneath carriages,

no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck,

feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled,

means something more than journey.

As Warsan Shire put it, refugees only leave home because it is now the mouth of a shark.

This is not a migrant crisis and to claim that it is is to minimise and trivialise the issue. Were the men and women who made their way to Ellis Island from Ireland with nothing in their stomachs but a burning desire to keep going migrants? Surely we, as a people, know what refuge means and understand the plight of those who flee an inhospitable home.

Every country has its periods of political strife, but Syria was the victim of western intervention which turned the country upside down and unrest into all-out chaos. It is a proxy war in which we are complicit because of our subservience at Shannon Airport. The international community's failure to challenge the countries which secretly and sometimes openly support the barbarism of ISIS has led us to this crisis. Still we shake the bloody hands of Saudi leaders and send condolences to their tyrannical dynasty, shamefully flying the Tricolour at half mast. We are partly responsible for the crisis and that calls for us to be clear about what it entails and to be generous in our response. So far, we have failed utterly to live up to promise to take in thousands of refugees from Syria.

Ours must be a strong voice against the EU-Turkey deal. It is a disgraceful move by the European Union which gives comfort to a nation which has done little to tackle ISIS and everything to exploit the war to wipe out the Kurds and their political movements within its borders. We must reject the deal and move towards a meaningful plan for the distribution of refugees throughout Europe. We should look on this as an opportunity to be a beacon to the world for decency, compassion and humanity. Instead, save for an honourable few, we have sat on our hands. I pay tribute to the brave crew of the LE Eithne who have saved countless lives in the Mediterranean. Their work should be an example, but we betray their dedication by supporting a plan which places these lives back in harm's way in Turkey.

I also mention the long-running refugee crisis as a result of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. There are 5.1 million Palestinian refugees who span generations. These families include adults who have never known a life outside a refugee camp, a home or their homeland. They are situated almost entirely within the Middle East and, therefore, are at the mercy of often unstable political regimes. They are the victims of another crisis. Over 500,000 Palestinians are in camps in Syria. They are refugees from a country from which we buy arms. We must work harder to challenge the occupation of Palestine, the blockade of Gaza, the apartheid wall and all of the brutal measures used by Israel to make Palestine a place no Palestinian can truly call home. We must do this in order that they will be refugees no more and can have not just a right to return but also the ability and a reason to do so.

Ireland must be a voice and an ally for refugees in a way we were never able to be for our own.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak about the refugee crisis.

Returning to the previous speaker's point about language, last summer there was a debate in the media and on the Internet about whether we would use the word "migrant" or "refugee" and commentators became exercised about the issue. It is by no means the most important aspect of the crisis, but it is important. I have a real problem with the word "refugee" because it is dehumanising. It is like when we use numbers - it takes away the humanity of an individual. When we say the word "refugee", one makes associations with a person from another country, of another colour, ethnicity or creed. We do not see them as being like ourselves. They are but from a different place, from which they desperately need to get away. That is the only difference between us. Whether one says the word "migrant" or "refugee", one is creating a distance because it interferes with our ability to face this crisis properly and deal with it. It is perhaps the greatest crisis or threat to the European Union project since its foundation. It is bigger than the euro crisis and the potential threat posed by Brexit. It challenges our notion of the European Union to its core and does so every day. It undermines rapidly the principles and norms of the Union that were built over decades. That is worrying, but we should not necessarily look at it as a threat. Of course, it is a challenge, but it is one that can be managed. We need to see it as an opportunity for the European Union. It is an opportunity to improve and diversify the Union, to right some of the wrongs perpetrated in Europe in the not too recent past and to use the Union as a force for good in world affairs.

We will never properly be able to deal with the crisis unless we have an understanding of and common agreement on our shared responsibility for causing it. If we do not see it as common to all of us in terms of a shared vision of the European Union and what it means, we will not find the right tools to deal with it. People are fleeing something horrific - deprivation, poverty, violence and war-torn areas. They are coming to the shores of the European Union, if they can make it alive, to seek something better. They are, simply, seeking a future. We, in Ireland, must ask if we see ourselves as having a responsibility in that context. Of course, it is a responsibility of those who are well to those who are unwell and which the strong have to the weak, but is there something more tangible than this in terms of our responsibility to our neighbours and partners in the European Union?

Maybe it is a responsibility we share due to the actions of European countries and EU member states in the Middle East. I do not mean in recent decades but going all the way back to the Sykes-Picot agreement. Do we share responsibility for their actions or do we have a responsibility for our inaction when they took action? Perhaps we do, perhaps we do not. Maybe we have a responsibility for something even greater than it, the great threat that Daesh poses to Europe, the Western world, civilised people and freedom. We have a responsibility to reach out and say to those who are fleeing that torture and torment, "Come to us, we will protect you, there is safety and freedom here and we believe in your rights as an individual and as a person". We have this responsibility a thousand times over for many reasons. We must ask whether Ireland is meeting this responsibility.

I am incredibly proud when I see the work of our Naval Service in the Mediterranean Sea and the lives they are saving every day. Although our military capabilities are minuscule compared to those of other EU countries, we are deciding to devote our scarce resources in this way. This makes me proud. We are doing something great and it says we believe we have a responsibility to these people and for their lives. This responsibility does not end with taking people out of the water and bringing them to safe land. We also have a responsibility to take people in. While 4,000 people is good, it is not great. We can, and should, take in more. We should start with a figure of 10,000, and we can do it. It will pose challenges to us as a country and to the direct provision system, which is a disgrace and is indefensible and inhumane. Maybe, this challenge can be seen as an opportunity to free those who are trapped in direct provision. We have all experienced cases of people who have been stuck in the system for years. It may be an opportunity to rethink how we treat people who come to Ireland seeking help and a better life.

This crisis is going to get worse, particularly as we enter the better months of the year for weather and conditions. We must ask whether Ireland and the EU are ready for the challenge. We are not ready, despite the recent agreement. Although there have been some great acts of goodwill and charity from individuals in their own countries we, as European countries, do not fully believe we have a full responsibility to people who are fleeing and coming to our shores. There are many arguments against taking in more refugees for Ireland and other EU countries. These arguments stand up if one does not want to take in more refugees. This is the key question. Do we want to take in more refugees? Do we believe we have a role and a responsibility here? Are we going to use the benefits of winning the "country of birth lottery" to help other people or just to help ourselves? We can look after the most desperate people on earth and we can look after ourselves. We can do both, if we choose to.

It is 100 years since the Rising. I am not quite sure what it means. We like to focus on numbers. We have our country, and it is a good country. Although we have our problems, when we compare Ireland to the countries from which people are fleeing, we are much better off. We are safe and secure and we have prosperity and freedom. What is our vision for what we want to do with our freedom? Surely we have a vision that extends beyond how we want to pay for water. Surely we have a bolder vision for the country. Surely our horizons are bolder and brighter than that. We need to figure out what is our vision. We are at a very important point in Irish history. I fear our society, country and politics are breaking down in a way. Maybe in this one area at least we can find a way that in helping others we can help fix ourselves. We need to do the work. It comes back to the responsibility, if we believe we have one, as I do, and ensuring the EU sees this shared responsibility. We must use our will, from this Chamber, to try to create the will among European partners to address properly the crisis that is unfolding on European shores.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to speak on this very important debate on EU migration and the refugee crisis. We have all seen the horrific images and the significant family suffering following conflicts in Syria, Libya, Iraq and conflicts in Africa. Yet the EU and many other countries are not doing enough. Although some EU governments are responsible for the causes of many of these conflicts, they act as if they had nothing to do with them. It is important that we address the causes of many of these conflicts. We must all wake up to the facts and the nightmare for these people.

We must remind ourselves of certain key facts. Some 1,200 men, women and children are listed as missing or drowned so far. Some 10,000 children are missing within the borders of Europe. Some 184,000 people have arrived since the start of the year. We are talking about people. That is to put a human face on it. I strongly agree with my colleague, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, when he referred to the words "refugee" and "migrant". These are human beings, men, women and children, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. They are people. It is important that we focus on the humanitarian aspect of the debate.

Some 14 years ago, before I entered the Dáil, I worked in a school which had children of five different nationalities, many of whom had come from conflict areas. The experience of the parents, pupils and teachers was extremely positive. They made an enormous contribution. The children were highly motivated and many have gone on to become professionals in Irish society. Those who have a serious problem with immigration must focus on the many positive aspects.

Our emigrants to Australia, America or Germany make positive contributions to the broader society. I have two nephews and a niece in Australia and other parts of the world. We do not want them to go. Many go for economic reasons and many others to broaden their horizons. They make a major contribution where they go. The same happens here. Those who have a mindset against immigrants need to calm down and focus on those issues.

Today, I met a group of 37 trade unionists from Germany who visited the Dáil. We had very detailed questions and answers about the situation and this issue arose. Germany has taken in many people and has shown leadership but has also suffered politically. While we have political differences here, in Ireland we have a broader view point, and no extreme right-wing parties have arisen. If they have tried to take off, they have not developed. My German guests today told me they were concerned about this issue in Germany and Austria. While we have differences, we must focus. Members of the Oireachtas must focus on issues such as racism. We should have learned from the sectarian aspect of our conflict in the North during the past 30 years. Sectarianism and racism are no-nos, and politicians must lead on this issue. It can be difficult when one is getting it in the neck on the doorsteps regarding the issue, as many did during the general election campaign. Again, the issue was kept under the radar.

A number of my colleagues have mentioned the role of the Irish Naval Service. I commend the Naval Service on its major contribution. Some 8,500 people are alive today as a direct result of the actions of Irish officers and crews. To the men and women of the Naval Service, I say, "go raibh míle maith agaibh and well done for a job well done".

They should be going back there again. We should know from our history - we all learned about the coffin ships and the Famine - that there is a need to show leadership and courage on this issue. While the decision to deploy this year was very welcome, we need assurances about the longer term. I will push this issue very strongly. All of us in this changed Dáil should be united in this regard. A ship flying the Irish flag should be rescuing people from the Mediterranean for as long as is necessary.

We owe it to our fellow human beings to make this case. We also owe it to our great-great-great-grandparents who ended up in coffin ships and paupers' graves in different parts of the world from the 1800s. It is important to link their experience into today's debate. We can be very proud of what has happened in recent days.

It is important for this Government and the incoming Government to stand up and deliver on the commitment that was made to take 4,000 people. I understand that fewer than 500 people have been allowed into Ireland during the five years of the war in Syria. That is not good enough. It is something we have to look at, just as we have to look at issues like housing, accommodation, education and services. We can think about such matters and plan for them. We have already started that process. Canada is one of the countries that has shown leadership and overcome their problems. It now has more than 10,000 refugees on its soil, with a further 15,000 refugees on the way. People can argue that Canada has a bigger landmass than Ireland. I accept that point. I am not saying we need to take 15,000 refugees. We should start with the 4,000 we have committed to take. Brazil, which is an absolutely massive country with its own economic and social problems, has taken 2,600 people. There is a contribution. Europe's Governments, including the Irish Government, have failed to match that generosity. As I have said, we have to be very conscious of our own history. The policy decision to take 4,000 refugees by the end of next year should be delivered on. I do not think there is a need to discuss it any further. The decision has been made and we should get on with it.

I would like to suggest how we might deal with this particular situation. It is important that we have proposals and solutions to deal with this issue. We have to be radical, responsible and inclusive. I would like to see the establishment of safe legal channels so that people can reach safety without having to risk everything at the hands of people smugglers. I would like the State to honour its existing commitment to accept 4,000 people without any further delay. I would like us to commit to retaining the Irish Navy in the Mediterranean so that our troops can continue to save lives for as long as is necessary. I would like to see an extension of the screening by Irish officials of people from the existing hot spots so that the camps at Calais, Cherbourg and Roscoff are included. We cannot allow what is happening there to continue. We cannot tolerate the poverty that these people are experiencing in these hovels. We need to deal with these issues. I have made some positive and constructive proposals to that end.

I would like to go back to the core issue, which is how to assist people who are in need. As I have said previously, an important aspect of this issue came up on the radar during the recent general election campaign. People spoke privately to me when I was canvassing certain streets and roads. It is interesting that they never spoke to me in front of seven or eight of my election workers. There was an element of hostility when this issue came up. This is something that is out there under the radar in our broader society. It is very important for Members of the Oireachtas, as leaders, to be determined to ensure on a cross-party basis that racism, like sectarianism, is not accepted in any aspect and is not allowed to show its head or move up in any way in society.

It is also important to refer to the Palestinian question, which was mentioned by some of my colleagues, while we are talking about this whole issue. We have not faced up to this reality. In the previous Dáil, a cross-party motion was agreed supporting the Palestinian people and their proposal to have their own state, fatherland or country. I am saying the new Dáil should accept this all-party motion. When we are talking about the Palestinians, we are talking about people. I thank the Chair for giving me the opportunity to make this contribution. It is important for all of us to show the humanitarian side to Irish politicians.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue. The unprecedented level of migrants and refugees fleeing war-torn parts of the Middle East and north Africa represents a huge crisis for Europe, which faces a great test of its practicality, morality and humanity. A huge number of people continue to die as they flee these war-torn areas on boats in full knowledge of the risks. They feel they have no other opportunity to live and survive. It is a sign of pure and absolute desperation. Fianna Fáil believes this country must work with its colleagues in the EU and the international community to bring an end to the civil war that is destabilising Syria and generating this refugee crisis. Ireland should support a significant expansion of aid to refugees in camps in the Middle East, specifically by advocating the release of further EU funding for this purpose. We believe the Irish funding being provided for this purpose should be doubled to €1.2 million. Ireland should stand with other countries in fighting against the extremists who are using this crisis to promote fear and distrust within groups. We think this country should insist that Europe remains true to its democratic and inclusive values. It has been highlighted that the people about whom we are speaking are not immigrants. Most of them do not want to come to Europe, as they would prefer to stay in their home countries. Many of them had businesses and farms. Some have lost family members. They should be supported in every possible way so that they can survive.

A few weeks ago, I travelled to the occupied Palestinian Territories with my colleague, Deputy Troy. We spent a considerable amount of time meeting UN and EU officials. We also met representatives of Al-Haq and similar organisations that are dealing with the abuse of prisoners. We met families whose homes have been knocked down or who have been thrown out of their homes. We met farmers who are not even allowed to take stones from their land so that they can grow crops for their families and be productive. It was disturbing to stand in a field where one could barely grow enough food for a family. When I looked over the brow of the hill, I could see a neighbouring field that was as lush as any field in Ireland. This can be attributed to the human rights abuses that are being suffered by the Palestinian people as a result of the actions of the Israeli Government. When we visited a radio station that had just been set up, we were told it was set up because the two previous radio stations were raided and had their equipment confiscated because the Israeli Government did not appreciate something that was said on those stations.

When we were in Hebron, we visited an Israeli Defence Forces checkpoint. At that point, we did not realise the exact purpose of our visit to this particular area. The young Israeli soldiers were not happy to see us. They refused to allow us to enter for a considerable amount of time. It was only when we got through the checkpoint that we realised they had a fear of letting us through because the location where a Palestinian soldier had been executed, in effect, by the Israeli Defence Forces a few days previously, as we all saw on the news, was at the other side. When we visited the Hebron ghost town, we could see the phenomenal sight of what had been a busy street of Palestinian shops but has now been completely shut down. It was most disturbing to observe the despondency among young Palestinian human rights lawyers. It is when people have little or no hope that times are most dangerous.

I raise these issues in relation to Palestine because I believe refugee situations are created when human rights violations are allowed to take place and humans are devalued because they do not concord with the dominant military force in any particular area. It is in such circumstances that people need to flee. It was clear from every Palestinian I met that they want to stay in their home territories. They want to develop businesses and the economy. They want a nation they can take pride in.

By way of illustration, wood is a dual-use product in Israel. This means the Palestinians cannot import a plank of wood without the prior permission of the Israeli Government because in its view that plank could be used as a weapon. As a result of this, the Palestinians are unable to repair buildings that have been destroyed, including water factories, and they now have to import water from Israel.

I implore the Government to support the UN ban on imports from companies that use products from the occupied territories. All of the groups I met in Palestine continually emphasised that this is effective. Israeli companies often use companies in Europe as a front. Companies that import products from occupied territories often cease doing so once this issue has been highlighted. It is critical that this continues.

We will not solve the refugee crisis without first addressing the human rights abuses of people in these areas. In the meantime, refugees fleeing murder, mayhem and persecution must be provided with safe travel. Parents who are prepared to put their young children onto a boat on their own out of desperation are not people seeking to emigrate; they are refugees fleeing a crisis and they must be protected. Ireland needs to do more. It is important that people resettled here do not experience racism. We are lucky in that no right-wing anti-immigrant or anti-refugee party has gained ground here, although there are elements of racism here. Individuals are experiencing racism on a daily basis. We have seen some nasty evidence of that. We must show leadership on this issue and ensure that all aspects of racism is stamped out. It should not be acceptable in any way, shape or form.

The British based writer and journalist, Richard Seymour, recently wrote an article about the refugee crisis entitled "When is a Tragedy a Massacre". In that article, with which I agree, he lays the blame for the massacre of human beings trying to get into Europe at the door of the European Union. That this is a massacre, let there be no doubt. Since 2000, 22,000 human beings - I agree with Deputy Eoghan Murphy that the people about whom we are speaking should not be called migrants or refugees - huge numbers of them children, have died while trying to get into Europe, some of them having drowned in the most awful of circumstances. Children trying to get into Europe have been washed up on beaches.

Since 2013, approximately 8,000 people have died while trying to get into Europe. I keep repeating the phrase "trying to get into Europe" because we need to dwell on the significance of it. The reason people are dying is because they are trying to get into Europe and the European Union does not want to let them in. It is as simple as that. There would not be smugglers were it not for the fact that the European Union does not want to let people in. The European Union would rather risk children dying and families drowning than let them into Europe. Maintaining border control is more important to the European Union than ensuring that not one more child or family dies. That is the simple, cold, brutal fact.

I welcome that in this Parliament - possibly the only one in the whole of Europe - we do not have any filthy, nasty racists trying to exploit people's fears in regard to refugees but we need to go further if we are not to be seen to be simply cleansing our consciences. We must raise our voices and highlight that the policies of the European Union, of which Ireland is a member, are resulting in the needless death of thousands of human beings, many of them children. We must highlight that at every level the European Union and the so-called civilised western world has the blood of these people on its hands, not only in terms of their refusing to allow these people into Europe or trying to keep them out of Europe but in terms of their having contributed directly to the conditions which drove them from their homes in the first instance.

We all know the countries from which the largest numbers of human beings are fleeing to Europe, namely, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The European Union and the United States are responsible for the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding before our eyes. As a member of the European Union, Ireland is responsible, directly or indirectly, for this crisis. We have facilitated the US war machine in its continuing war in Afghanistan. We have put troops into Afghanistan, working with the NATO forces who have effectively destroyed Afghanistan. As an anti-war activist and somebody who has been campaigning against the Afghanistan war since it commenced in 2002 it came as a surprise to me to learn that the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan was at its highest level last year and continues to increase. The situation there is worsening. The number of deaths attributable to the pro-Government forces, including NATO, increased by 42% last year. NATO and the political forces we are supporting, as well as the Taliban and ISIS which are reactionary, horrible political forces, are responsible for an increasing number of needless, brutal, innocent deaths, yet we say nothing about that. We do nothing about the fact that the troops that are responsible for this, that caused the war in Afghanistan and caused the situation there to worsen through the killing of innocent civilians, are passing through Shannon Airport every day. We also permitted that in relation to the Iraqi war.

Anybody who is being honest knows that there is a direct line between the US war in Iraq and the crisis in Syria. It was obvious that when the infrastructure of Iraq was decimated in that war there would be a knock-on effect for Syria. It was predicted by everybody who opposed that war that it would destabilise Syria and so it did. ISIS would not exist but for the war in Iraq and we were complicit in that. It goes on and we continue to back a Government in Iraq that is ruthlessly sectarian and has deepened the divisions between Sunni and Shia who used to live happily side by side in the same towns and villages.

As a direct result of the war and the political forces that the West backed in Iraq, we have turned it into a sectarian nightmare that has fuelled the growth of ISIS. That went on to spill over into Syria, another regime which was ruthlessly crushing the Syrian population and with which the governments of the likes of Germany, France and Russia sold arms and did business. We are responsible on every level.

Others have mentioned Palestine. The ruthless oppression of Palestinian human rights, the brutal treatment of them, the successive assaults on Gaza, the rounding-up of people without trial, the destruction of people's homes, the occupation and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian land; it just goes on. Yet we still treat Israel as if it is a normal state. We conduct normal diplomatic relations with these people. Would we let a known ISIS fighter into this country and welcome them? Of course we would not. Would we have normal diplomatic relations with ISIS? Of course we would not. We would be right not to. Why is it okay to have normal diplomatic relations with the Saudi regime, the Israeli regime and some of those other rotten regimes in the Gulf?

Let me also mention the Egyptian regime. I do not have the time to read the report, but I want to mention the name of a socialist who has just been arrested in Egypt. He is a human rights lawyer caught up in the round-up of thousands of innocent people who were involved in the protests against the latest turn in Egyptian policy by the el-Sisi regime in which it is planning to sell off a series of Egyptian islands to the Saudi dictatorship. There are peaceful, civil protests going on and thousands of people are being rounded up, including a young lawyer named Haitham Mohamedain. I want to make a particular plea for our Government to speak out on his behalf. He has been arrested because he supposedly joined the Muslim Brotherhood. This man is a socialist and has nothing to do with religion. He is a civil rights lawyer but he was one of the organisers of peaceful protests that were taking place on the streets of Egypt in the last while. Along with hundreds of others who have been arrested in their beds, he has been locked up in prison and accused of trumped-up charges.

Let us not forget the young Irishman Ibrahim Halawa who is also being treated like this. Why do we conduct normal relations with Egypt? Why are we selling them beef when this is what they are doing to their own people? Where is it going to lead? How long is it going to be before Egypt becomes a disaster and we have thousands of Egyptians fleeing Egypt across the Mediterranean and drowning in the Mediterranean Sea? To that we would say, "No, we are not letting you in. We cannot manage it. But we were quite happy to do business with the dictators that created the conditions which led you to flee in the first place." This hypocrisy has to stop.

So many people who support the EU project do so because they believe that Europe is some sort of progressive place. They believe that it is about trying to end conflict and to not repeat the horrors of the 1930s, 1940s, Nazism and so on. Then we look at the reality and it is quite different. Fortress Europe is brutal and inhumanitarian and its policies are leading directly to wars and to the deaths of innocent people fleeing those desperate situations.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the Government, I thank Deputies from all sides of this House for the wide range of contributions that have been made throughout this debate. The level of engagement from all sides recognises that this is an issue on which there is cross-party concern and one, I hope, on which we can generate cross-party consensus in terms of how this country, the EU and the international community must respond to the humanitarian refugee crisis. That is what it is: a humanitarian crisis. I agree with those who call it that.

I echo the point made by many that we are well-served by the fact that this House, traditionally and right through to this Thirty-second Dáil, has always been one which has agreed and responded positively to requests for solidarity and action in assisting refugees seeking protection within the EU. I was struck by the number of my constituents contacting my office by telephone and e-mail asking that more be done, that this country must do more and that they want Ireland to play its part in supporting refugees in their relocation efforts. That is a message we have all received in this House. It is one that we have to hear very clearly. Our citizens want Ireland to be to the fore in pushing for solutions to this humanitarian crisis.

I was moved by Deputy Brady's reference to the poem Home by Warsan Shire which I just looked up. I think it puts words to the very serious humanitarian crisis which can be all too often dehumanised in the media and in politics. These are real people. Nobody puts their child on a boat or into an awful situation should they not feel the absolute necessity to do so for the safety and well-being of their family.

In response to Deputy McGrath's point, I too am very proud, as I presume all Members of this House are and as many have expressed, of the role being played by the Irish Navy. The Minister for Defence, Deputy Simon Coveney, confirmed earlier today in this House that the Navy will continue to make that effort and that there will be a further deployment this Sunday regarding members of the Naval Service. Their continued assistance and involvement is something we all welcome.

I refer to the point made by Deputy McGrath and others about the importance of Ireland in helping the resettlement and relocation of the 4,000 people that we have committed to. That commitment still stands from this Government and this State. The difficulties of the low numbers to date arise from external issues. The target of 4,000 people is still very much the commitment of the State. It is a number that could increase when family unification is taken on board.

Ireland continues, and will continue, to play its part at an EU level to implement agreed solutions to this refugee crisis. We will continue to ensure that all measures taken are in full respect of human dignity and in line with our EU and international obligations. At home, we must ensure that Ireland remains a welcoming and inclusive society for those in need of our protection. This House has a role to play in fostering public debate which supports the humane and respectful treatment of asylum seekers and persons fleeing war and persecution. That has always been our tradition here. Our response to persons seeking protection does not end once they reach our shores, however. Persons arriving under the relocation and resettlement programmes are being given all necessary support to assist them and their families in their integration into Irish society, including the schooling of children, language classes for adults, full health checks, emergency welfare payments, full board and accommodation. Some of those arriving have experienced significant trauma and they are receiving all appropriate supports.

It is clear, however, that our asylum system is in need of reform. That is a point that has been raised throughout this debate. This Government has introduced reforming legislation. Last December, the House debated and passed the International Protection Bill. The International Protection Act will reform the system for examining and determining applications for international protection in Ireland through the introduction of a single application procedure. Under the single procedure, an applicant will make only one application and will have all grounds to seek international protection and to be permitted to remain in the State while being examined and determined in one process. This single procedure will replace the current multi-layered and sequential protection application and appeal system and is intended to achieve the desired balance in treating asylum seekers with the humanity and respect they deserve, whilst also ensuring that we have a more efficient asylum and immigration procedure and safeguards in place.

Many of the Deputies raised the issue of direct provision. The report of the working group which was published by Government last June made a total of 173 recommendations. Many of these have implications for a number of Government Departments and services. The Department of Justice and Equality recently completed a consultation exercise on the status of the recommendations across all the responsible divisions, Departments and agencies. The exercise has shown that 90 of the recommendations have been fully implemented and a further 26 are in the process of being implemented. Some 116 recommendations have been progressed since the report's publication in June 2014 and a further 46 recommendations are the subject of ongoing consideration by the Cabinet committee on social policy. This represents yet another need to form a Government so that we can progress these further.

I believe it is important that we continue to pursue this issue and that we do not simply have a one-off debate. This is something that is going to require work from all Members of the Thirty-second Dáil and I hope it is something on which we can continue to build political consensus.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
The Dáil adjourned at 4 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 May 2016.