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.