By Sarah Mac Donald - 03 October, 2015
Bishops and catholic aid agency concerned over the pace of the EU and Irish response to the plight of thousands of refugees.
Welcoming the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald’s reiteration of the Government’s commitment to the quick processing of applications from refugees from Syria, Trócaire also welcomed her statement on the importance of all EU member states showing solidarity with those fleeing conflict.
Trócaire is concerned over the pace of the response.
Executive Director Éamonn Meehan said in a statement, “We can’t allow ourselves to sit back and think we have done our bit. The EU has agreed to take in 120,000 refugees over two years but what about the hundreds of thousands of people not covered by this agreement?”
He said that as central and eastern Europe heads into winter thousands of refugees risk being left in limbo, stuck in freezing temperatures with nowhere to go and no legal protection.
“By refusing to process asylum applications, as well as failing to protect the human rights of people within their borders, some EU states are making a mockery not only of European values but of international legal agreements,” Éamonn Meehan stated.
He added that Ireland still has a big role to play in ensuring that all EU member states are fully living up to their legal obligations.
“The approach of winter also heightens the urgent need to increase funding to refugee camps and settlements in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, the three countries that host the majority of Syrian refugees.”
“The threat of snow and freezing temperatures will increase people’s desperation and may lead to an increase in the numbers of people attempting to reach the EU.”
He highlighted that the UN’s Syria appeal remains chronically underfunded and said that if the international community proves itself unable to protect refugees where they are, it is only natural that they will look to move elsewhere.
On Thursday, the country’s catholic bishops called for “clear leadership” and political commitment to the resettlement of refugees, warning that “urgent reform” is needed in order to avoid the creation of “an unjust two-tier system”.
In a statement, the Irish Bishops’ Conference said Irish politicians needed to use their influence at EU level to minimise delays in getting vulnerable people, such as Syrians fleeing conflict, to safety through legal and secure pathways which would reduce the number of lives lost on perilous routes.
“We need clear leadership in the form of a renewed international commitment to the right to asylum, which places the dignity and human rights of refugees at the heart of policy decisions,” the bishops stated.
They also highlighted the importance of family reunification to the integration process saying there was a responsibility to respect and protect family life.
Outlining their concerns with the current resettlement process for refugees and asylum-seekers, they warned that the existing barriers to integration must be addressed.
“Urgent reform is required to avoid the creation of an unjust two-tier system in which the needs of those who have been waiting for status for many years are overlooked,” they said.
Referring to research from the Working Group report on Direct Provision and the Protection Process, they said its recommendations must be implemented “without further delay” by the Government.
A clear priority is the need to “urgently” address the situation of people who have been more than five years in the Direct Provision system.
The bishops also encouraged parish communities across the country to explore how they might offer their services, talents, time and commitment to supporting the resettlement of refugees.
These include practical parish actions such as friendship and welcome schemes, English language classes, trauma counselling and medical services, as well as legal advice services.