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880 refugees feared dead in shipwrecks off Italy

By Ann Marie Foley - 02 June, 2016

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The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and the Immigrant Council of Ireland have spoken out as a further 880 refugees are feared dead in shipwrecks near Italy.

“To keep letting people drown in the Mediterranean Sea is a scandal and it is immoral,” said Tom Smolich SJ, director, JRS International.

Brian Killoran, Chief Executive, Immigrant Council of Ireland, stated in a letter to the Irish Times that Ireland’s proud tradition as a nation that speaks up for the voiceless is being undermined by the lack of action and failure to demand a humanitarian response to the continuing crisis on Europe’s shores.

The UN refugee agency reported that at least 880 forced migrants perished in a series of shipwrecks in the central Mediterranean over the last week as they tried to reach Europe in unseaworthy smuggling boats.

The Italian coast guard and navy ships, with the help of Irish and German boats and humanitarian groups, rescued many people.

The LÉ Róisín rescued 123 migrants and refugees from a 12m-long rubber vessel northwest of Tripoli on Saturday.

The crew also recovered the body of a man from the craft and then took onboard another 224 migrants  from Italian and German ships.

UNHCR stated yesterday (1 June) that so far in 2016 some 2,510 lives have been lost compared to 1,855 in the same period in 2015 and 57 in the first five months of 2014.

The odds of dying crossing the Mediterranean are as high as one in 81 and getting worse.

UNHCR figures also show that, so far this year, some 203,981 people have made the journey to seek safety in Europe.

Almost three-quarters of these had travelled from Turkey to Greece prior before the end of March.

Some 46,714 of these travelled to Italy, almost the same as the total recorded there in the first five months of 2015.

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In the light of this, the JRS called on national and supranational policymakers to use all the means at their disposal to create safe and humane passages for people in need of protection.

“Europe has the means to save and protect people. It’s just a question of willingness to provide pathways for folks to enter Europe without risking their lives,” said Tom Smolich SJ.

“The status quo is not going to do it; destroying boats in Libya is not going to do it. Making passages safe and humane, working with people before they come to Europe, dealing with the phenomenon of refugees in a systemic and fundamentally humane way is the only way,” he concluded.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland called on Ireland to refocus the European and global debate back to the needs of real people fleeing barrel bombs, chemical attacks and executions.

“We must speak up and demand safe legal channels to Europe, with every country doing its bit and offering people a genuine chance to restart their lives,” said Brian Killoran.

“Our silence, coupled with the continuing unacceptable delay in honouring our own promise to shelter 4,000 people, is difficult to understand – in particular in light of the widespread public calls for action just six months ago.”

He concluded stating that Ireland must rediscover its humanitarian voice and show the most vulnerable people of the world that they are not forgotten.

Kildare FM has reported that the Government has only taken in 10 people under an EU migrant relocation scheme while the country has committed to accepting 2,622 people from Italy and Greece under the scheme.

Several Syrian refugees already in Ireland are being accommodated in Kildare at the former Hazel Hotel in Monasterevin.

In a Dail debate on 24 May, Deputy David Stanton on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, replied to a question by Deputy Mick Wallace.

He stated that the figure of 4,000 refugees that the Irish Government promised to take includes approximately 2,600 asylum seekers to be admitted from Italy and Greece under the EU relocation programme and 520 refugees, which the Government has committed to taking in by the end of 2016 under Ireland’s refugee resettlement programme led by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR.

He said that 263 refugees have been admitted into Ireland so far from Lebanon and the balance expected by the end of September, also from Lebanon.

Of the former group he said that the pace of the relocation programme across the European Union has been slower than they had wised for.

He said that a Syrian family of ten has been relocated from Greece to Ireland and granted protection.

Very shortly, another group of 31 Syrians will arrive in the State. A further 40 people are provisionally scheduled to arrive the following month, with a regular intake of between 40 and 60 persons arriving every eight weeks by agreement with the Greek authorities.

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