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15 December 2016
Distinguished guests, colleagues,
It gives me great pleasure to be here today and I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the European Migration Network Ireland (EMNI) for inviting me to speak at the opening of today’s conference.
I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the ESRI not only in organising today’s event, but also for the wide range of research and outreach activities that the ESRI undertakes in its capacity as Ireland’s National Contact Point to the European Migration Network.
I would like to acknowledge in particular EMN Ireland’s most recent report, published this week, on the Resettlement of Refugees and Private Sponsorship in Ireland, which is of particular relevance to today’s conference.
The role of the EMN is to provide objective, reliable and comparable information on migration and asylum across the EU, in so doing establishing important links between policy-making and research communities at both a national and an EU level.
Indeed, the breadth of expertise among participants present today is an excellent example of the readiness of civil society, the research community, service providers and others to work with policy makers to shape the Irish response to the refugee and migrant crisis.
I also welcome the representatives of Germany, Portugal and Sweden, as well as the European Commission, who will share their perspectives of this issue.
Sadly, for millions of people throughout the world, war and conflict are a daily reality. Men, women and children have to leave their homeland because of a fear of persecution or serious harm, discrimination, and because their human rights are being violated. For many, there is also a real fear of the type of generalised and sustained violence which can occur in a war situation or conflict. One of our speakers here today will give his unique insight of the reality for people who are forced to flee their homeland.
The recent UN Summit on Large Movements of Refugee and Migrants in September 2016 and the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, at which the Tánaiste represented Ireland, have shown that there is strong international willingness to address the growing refugee and migration crisis, we now need to translate that willingness into action and effective cooperation. We know the scale of the issue is enormous with over 65m people estimated to be forcibly displaced, many of whom are children. Many will spend their entire childhoods away from home, sometimes separated from their families. They may have witnessed or experienced violent acts and, in exile, are at risk of abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or military recruitment.
Member States across the European Union are continuing to grapple with these very complex political and societal issues arising from an unprecedented level of migration from areas of conflict in Africa and the Middle East. Filippo Grandi said recently on his appointment as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, that history has demonstrated that Europe is stronger when it addresses its challenges together. However, the world is experiencing an unprecedented level of mass migration which not only has practical implications for Europe, and for our global society today, but also has implications in terms of how society and cultures will evolve over future generations. It is a challenge but it is also an opportunity. An opportunity to enrich our cultures with the diversity of knowledge, experiences and opinions which we will share.
The government has responded to the humanitarian concerns of the Irish people, in particular as regards the ongoing Syrian crisis, by offering 4,000 places to those in need of international protection under the resettlement and relocation elements of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme. We voluntarily opted in to the two EU Council Decisions on Relocation and we recently announced that we are doubling our commitment under the resettlement programme to admit an additional 520 programme refugees next year.
The government is determined to use our resources to work to remove any roadblocks internationally that have slowed and frustrated our efforts to admit eligible people to Ireland under the relocation programme. And I am pleased to say those efforts are now bearing real fruit with steadily increasing numbers of adults and children arriving in the country – a process which will continue and will be the focus of all our efforts for the next 15 months. Under the resettlement programme we have achieved our target ahead of schedule and as I have already mentioned we are going beyond our initial commitment with further admissions planned for next year.
Ireland has a strong and internationally respected overseas development aid programme. Ireland’s foreign aid budget in 2015 was €647m. Our response to the Syrian crisis will exceed €62m by the end of 2016. As our economy grows, I anticipate that we will be able to give more.
We have also supported vital humanitarian efforts in the Mediterranean, in cooperation with the Italian Navy. Since May 2015, Ireland has deployed five successive Irish Naval Service vessels on humanitarian search and rescue operations. The core objective of our humanitarian assistance is to save and protect lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity. To date, more than 15,000 people have been rescued by our Naval Service personnel. We should be very proud of their achievements and I am delighted that they are being recognised with the awarding of the new Defence Forces International Service Awards Medal.
Turning to the specific topics for discussion later, I would like to offer some preliminary observations. As the number of refugees and asylum seekers coming to Ireland and Europe continues to grow, so too does interest in the effect these new arrivals will have on Irish life and society. Ireland is set to play a strong role in the coming years in the response to the current refugee crisis and as we do, our response to this crisis must be multi-faceted and people-focused. It must involve conflict prevention and resolution, development aid, poverty prevention and an international focus on human rights and the provision of practical supports including access to health services, education services and the provision of language training. The challenge is complex and no one country can solve it alone.
Much of the focus of international attention is on removing refugees from conflict zones and situations of potential harm and on providing for their immediate needs. However, the long-term responsibility has to be in supporting the refugee’s integration in the host country. That process is intensive and it is community-focused. Integration begins within the community, in helping refugees to assimilate to Irish society and providing a welcoming environment where they can be supported to recover and to begin their new lives. Interaction between citizens and those newly arrived is key to creating understanding between communities and to helping people to feel connected to our values, our heritage and our history.
I would like to finish my remarks today by wishing all of our speakers and participants here this morning every success for this timely conference. You have assembled a very interesting panel of speakers from all sides of the migration equation and I’m sure there will be valuable lessons to learn from sharing their experiences. Officials from a number of key areas across my Department will be actively participating throughout the day
Thank you for your attention.