Editorial – Leo Varadkar’s comments on asylum seekers are a dangerous concession to the far right

The normalisation of hatred in Ireland continues. Our own taoiseach has waded into the mire of far-right talking points. Over the weekend he declared that asylum seekers from Albania and Georgia are arriving here with the use of forged documents. And as a result, he said this was a “big driver of the increase” in asylum applications. He went on to state that “we cannot tolerate illegal entry”. 

This lines up with far-right conspiracy theories. We constantly find extremists and their supporters declaring that asylum seekers arriving in Ireland aren’t real asylum seekers. Their reliance on forged documents, so the argument goes, negates their claims of asylum. Varadkar is also apparently taking this line. 

Unfortunately for Varadkar and the far right though, they are grossly wrong. As the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) has pointed out, “a valid passport is not a precondition for refugee status”. The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is also quite clear on this issue. It states that:

subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay. This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules.

The Convention also bans criminal punishment “relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum”. Ireland, as Varadkar surely knows, is a signatory to the convention.

This begs the question as to why Varadkar would say such a thing? It comes as yet again, far right activists have managed to block the housing of asylum seekers. This time Achill was their target. A small group of asylum seekers were due to be housed there. But after the far right organised in private Facebook groups, this resulted in opposition to the arrival of the asylum seekers making itself known. A “silent vigil” has been held outside the hotel which was due to house the asylum seekers.

To them, the housing of 13 innocent women is a threat to be crushed. As if the entirety of Irish history is endangered by vulnerable women. Members of the far right care little about the inhumanity of direct provision. It’s simply about xenophobia.

As for Varadkar, he is a neoliberal stalwart. But he is not of the far-right, despite his party’s history in that area. Perhaps his comments are a clumsy dog whistle to the extremists in Ireland. An election is coming and transfers matter. Racists might not support Varadkar personally, but they might support a party that says, in their minds, the correct things about asylum seekers. 

Varadkar is not the only politician to make outrageous comments about asylum seekers. But it is one thing for an independent TD from rural Ireland to make such comments. It’s entirely different when the head of the government is parroting the far right. It shows that the Overton window is being slowly shifted further to the right. The political future of Ireland does not bode well if this continues.

Ensuring that Ireland is country of equality and justice is the only way to ensure a better future for all of us. That means challenging the far right whenever it appears. It also means challenging mainstream politicians for the misinformation they spread and the fear they create. Doing nothing will let hate win. And that can’t be allowed to happen.

Featured image via Flickr – William Murphy

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