President Higgins warns of ‘ugly anti-migrant sentiment’ in Ireland ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day

Irish president Michael D. Higgins has warned about the rise of “an ugly anti-migrant sentiment” in Europe and Ireland. He argued that there are those who want to “scapegoat the vulnerable” to “inflame” the public. And he went on to declare that people must not be “passive observers of prejudice or inequality”. 

Last year Higgins remarked that we have “a duty” to “create a place of welcome” for refugees”. 

Holocaust Memorial Day

Higgins made the comments at an event on Sunday 26 January to mark National Holocaust Memorial Day the following day. This year the event falls on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet forces.

Speaking of the Holocaust, Higgins told people in attendance that those who liberated Auschwitz felt a “sense of horror and revulsion” which “has reverberated through the decades so hauntingly”. He went on, saying

For let us not forget that so little time separates us from the evil that was the Holocaust. This is not an event from the distant past.

The president also highlighted the role of discrimination in leading the way to Auschwitz. He said that anti-Semitism and the targeting and stereotyping of minorities 75 years ago is also “something we must be vigilant” about today. 

“Distorted” far-right nationalism 

Higgins additionally voiced his concern about the rise of far-right movements across Europe. He said:

it is deeply worrying to observe an emerging trend of the rise of extremist language and politics across the streets of Europe, one that seeks to exploit what is often a loss of trust, but much more frequently informs a populism that invokes fear, exclusion and rejection of the ‘Other’.

Higgins also drew attention to the fact that asylum seekers, migrants, and minority communities “are increasingly described as a threat to the rights of the majority”. As a result, “human rights are in peril” due to the actions of “extremists”. 

He argued that, across the world, there is a “growing rise” in a “distorted version of exclusionary and often bogus, indeed mythical, type of nationalism”. And this results in “an invitation to hatred and hate speech”. 

According to Higgins, Ireland is also not immune to this. The president asserted that although extremists have not gained mass support in Ireland, “an ugly anti-migrant sentiment is attempting to rear its head in Ireland”. And this “extreme rhetoric” is being used by “those seeking to scapegoat the vulnerable in order to inflame the bewildered and angry”. 

Remembrance 

Higgins called on people “remember the Holocaust collectively”. This will help to “ensure that hatred and inhumanity is not allowed to spread its dark shadow” again. He also declared that sites like Auschwitz and Birkenau must be preserved. They are “powerful reminders” that hatred and racism “was permitted to flourish unhindered”. And “future generations can learn of the insidious dangers of extremism” from this. 

He finished his speech by saying we must “ensure that we do not become passive observers of prejudice or inequality in our society”. Instead, people should “be alert to the rise of racism and hate speech”. 

Later today Higgins will attend a ceremony at Auschwitz to mark the 75th anniversary of its liberation. 

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons – Dnalor 01