Ireland's president reminds people they have ‘a duty’ to ‘create a place of welcome’ for refugees

Ireland’s president has argued that refugees have been treated “with indifference” by some countries. Michael D. Higgins went on to argue that we have “a duty” to help and “and create a place of welcome to the most vulnerable”. And this means “open[ing] our countries to refugees”. 

His comments come as the United Nations (UN) has called on Ireland to eliminate the direct provision system.

The Irish experience

Higgins made the comments in a press release published on 16 December to mark the first Global Forum on Refugees. He was unable to attend but wrote that he was there “in spirit”.

In the press release the president wrote that Ireland’s experience of “hardship and displacement” means

Migration, particularly of an involuntary kind, is embedded in our folk memory.

As a result, he said that Ireland is now “a country of refuge and welcome”. Pointing to the experiences of four refugee families in Ireland that he had previously met, he noted that their “ideas and experiences help to enrich Irish society”.

Show compassion and understanding

Higgins went on to state the importance of understanding “that migration is a phenomenon as old as human life itself on our planet”. He highlighted that there are now over 70 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. 

Given the scale of the problem he believes it means we should “act, with urgency, and determination”. What’s more, he pointed to the dangers of  viewing refugees as “The Other”, insisting that:

We must demonstrate compassion for those experiencing migration in desperate, often life-threatening, conditions, and we must resist the invocations of fear of ‘The Other’, and instead open our countries to refugees.

The president closed his statement by calling for the creation of a Global Migration Fund. This, he suggested, could be used to assist refugees who want to return home or who wish to stay in their new country. The fund would help “the orderly movement of fellow humans into economies and societies”.

Do more

The statement comes as the UN recently called on Ireland to do more to tackle hate speech. In its concluding remarks the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) also asserted that the government should “phase out” the system of direct provision. It argued that direct provision accommodation is inadequate and the length of time spent in the system damages the mental health of asylum seekers.

CERD also pointed out that direct provision is run on a “for-profit basis without proper regulation”. 

Featured image via Flickr – UNCTAD