Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Questions (92)

John Brady

Question:

92. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the nature and the full extent of the response by Ireland to the fire at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28469/20]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

Will the Minister outline in detail the nature and full extent of Ireland's response to the fire at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos that happened in early September?

Welcome to the night shift. I hope everyone will stay with us until the early hours. I thank Deputy Brady for asking this question. It is an important issue.

Like many other people, I was deeply saddened by the fire at the Moria camp on Lesbos and the impact this has had on refugees and migrants who were based there. The sudden displacement of thousands of people has caused great suffering to those who were in the camp as well as posing a huge logistical challenge for the Greek authorities in the midst of a pandemic which is already putting much pressure on people.

My colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Byrne, spoke with his Greek counterpart immediately after the fire to offer Ireland's full solidarity and support. The Greek authorities requested assistance from EU partners in dealing with the immediate humanitarian needs arising from the fire. My Department, through our embassy in Athens, is in contact with the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy and has confirmed Ireland’s readiness to provide assistance from emergency stocks which we have in place at the United Nations Logistics Base, UNLB, in Italy. The Greek authorities have thanked us for this offer of assistance and we stand ready to work with them regarding the deployment of the emergency supplies.

We in Ireland are endeavouring to do our part having already received 1,022 asylum seekers, including six unaccompanied minors, from Greece under the first phase of the Irish refugee protection programme, IRPP.

In the context of the difficult situation now arising from the destruction of the Moria refugee camp the Government has decided that Ireland will welcome refugee families from Greece under the Irish refugee protection programme. Up to 50 people in family groups will be resettled following displacement due to the fire. This is in addition to the four unaccompanied minors to be taken as part of our pre-existing commitment to take 36 unaccompanied minors from Greece.

Officials from the Department of Justice and Equality are liaising with the European Commission on the detail of this commitment and, along with An Garda Síochána, will travel to Greece in the coming weeks to make the arrangements.

Like many others, I was moved by the images of young children and babies sitting on the side of the street with few or no possessions. We are responding, as I hope other countries in the EU will as well, to show some solidarity and assistance for the people concerned and also for Greece.

I thank the Minister for his response and share his sentiments with regard to being saddened by what we have seen in Lesbos. I am saddened also by the Irish Government's response, which has been wholly inadequate. We have had ministerial commitments to what can only be described as a piecemeal response in committing to accept four minors.

Back in September 2019, the head of the Children's Rights Alliance said there was a moral duty on this Government to live up to its obligations to accept 36 minors which had been committed to in phase 1 of the refugee resettlement programme. Since that date only six minors have actually been accepted into the State, as alluded to by the Minister. We are 30 short of our own commitments, so agreeing to accept four is less than satisfactory and deeply disappointing. Perhaps the Minister might touch on that point first and foremost.

Ireland has always responded positively to humanitarian crises and we will not be found wanting on this occasion either. As I said in my response, up to 50 people in family groups will be resettled to Ireland from Greece under the Irish refugee protection programme. It would be good if Deputy Brady recognised that, quite frankly. They will be given every support to rebuild their lives here in peace and safety. This is in addition to the commitment we have already made with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, to resettle 2,900 refugees to Ireland over the next four years and they will be welcome and safe here too.

We have already received 1,022 asylum seekers, including six unaccompanied minors, from Greece under the first phase of the Irish refugee protection programme. We have also committed to accept 36 unaccompanied minors in need of international protection from Greece and I was pleased that the first group of eight such minors arrived in Ireland last June. As I mentioned, the Government has decided to accept another group of four unaccompanied minors as part of this overall commitment. It is, however, an ongoing commitment and we will respond in as generous a way as we can.

I acknowledge the commitment that we will take in 50 people made up of a number of families. I acknowledge also the commitments that we signed up to between 2015 and 2019 that we would take in 36 minors, something we have failed to live up to. We need to learn from this fire. There is deep concern that we will see the rebuilding of the refugee camp in Lesbos. That cannot be allowed to happen, and that will only happen due to the failure of the EU to put in place a humane migration plan. We need to ensure that an investigation is launched into the policies and practices of the EU and its member states which have led to the deplorable conditions in the EU-sponsored hotspots such as those in the Greek islands.

Will the Minister will commit, first and foremost, to living up to our obligations, not by taking in four minors but to take in what we already agreed to going back to 2015? Second, will he repeat the call for an investigation to ensure something like what happened at the Moria camp does not happen again and that we put in place a humane refugee pact?

First, taking in unaccompanied minors is not a straightforward process. It normally involves civil servants from the Department and members of An Garda Síochána interviewing people to ensure they can be brought safely to Ireland and that they are suitable to resettle here and want to come here. Therefore, we are absolutely committed to fulfilling the commitments we have made and I suspect we will probably go beyond. Every time I am contacted by the European Commission to assist in accommodating refugees or asylums seekers, normally people who are trying to cross the Mediterranean, we almost always respond positively and we quietly accommodate different numbers at different times. This country is welcoming, wants to be generous and wants to commit to a sense of solidarity within the European Union where all countries should share the burden and show a willingness to support countries that border the Mediterranean, in particular, which are put under significant pressure.

It is my understanding that an investigation is already under way into how this happened and to learn lessons from it.