UNHCR National Conference on Refugee Sponsorship Programmes and Student Scholarship schemes
9th September 2016
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Distinguished guests, colleagues,
I would like to thank the UNHCR and in particular the acting head of Office in Ireland, Enda O’Neill, for inviting me to speak at the beginning of what I am sure will be an interesting and productive conference on refugee sponsorship programmes and student scholarship schemes this morning.
I read, with great interest, the biographies of the assembled speakers and was immediately struck by the relative youth of those who have come here to share their experiences with us today. We are all very aware of the terrible events happening in many parts of the world today and the “HELL ON EARTH” that many places have become and that people are fleeing from. All countries and the UN in particular must redouble efforts to stop the fighting and bring peace to these reasons. The world is experiencing such a level of mass migration which not only has practical implications for our global society today, but also has implications in terms of how society and cultures will evolve over future generations.
Here in Europe it is well documented how Member States are continuing to struggle with the complex political and societal issues arising from an unprecedented level of immigration from areas of conflict across the world. I am sure we will hear more from the panel about the challenges faced by those on both sides of the front line at migration hotspots around Europe’s southern borders and beyond.
Indeed, I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the world as we know it is changing, and irrevocably so. It is vital therefore, that we as a society, and the next generation of leaders currently residing within the student populations of the world, ensure that the societal changes arising from mass migration in the 21st century, are changes for the better, and not for the worse.
Turning to the specific topics for discussion later if I may, I would like to offer some thoughts as follows:
As regards University Schemes for refugees, I welcome all support and assistance offered in enabling Ireland to assist those in need of international protection arising from the Syrian conflict in a meaningful way. The education of displaced children at primary, secondary and third level must be a priority. Education to the highest standard at primary and secondary levels is the key to ensuring these children will be prepared to fulfil their potential when conflict finally ends.
Displaced young people who have been educated in English to a third level standard, may well benefit from a scheme of third level support here in Ireland. The scheme does not need to be a State scheme as we already proactively support students who wish to attend Irish third level institutions. If Irish third level institutions were to offer places to displaced students from conflict areas, with the necessary educational standards to cope with English language tuition, then they are entitled to apply for student visas. I expect that any such applications will be successful. This is current practice and student visas also include certain rights to access the labour market. Such initiatives from third level institutions would be of great benefit to displaced students and I assure you we already have measures in place to process any applications that would arise.
With regard to special humanitarian admission programmes, most of you will be familiar with the Syrian Humanitarian Admission Programme (or “ SHAP”) which was introduced by the Government in 2014. It was designed to admit Syrians under a sponsorship arrangement for up to two years subject to conditions. In all, up to 500 potential places were made available, but only 84 applications were received in respect of 307 beneficiaries. 44 applications were granted, for 119 family members. Despite it being a condition of the scheme, some of those admitted have applied for asylum and 23 have already had their applications granted, with more pending.
In the meantime, the Government responded to the ongoing Syrian crisis which reflected the humanitarian concerns of the Irish people, by offering 4,000 places to those in need of international protection under the resettlement and relocation elements of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme.
Up to very recently, a total of 311 persons displaced by the Syrian conflict had been admitted. The pace of arrivals has now picked up significantly and a further 20 programme refugees arrived from Lebanon under the resettlement programme on Monday, another 27 programme refugees arrived from Lebanon yesterday morning and a further 31 asylum seekers arrived from Greece yesterday afternoon. I myself was at the airport yesterday and welcomed this last group.
We have now admitted 390 persons displaced by the Syrian conflict under our relocation and resettlement programmes and a further 174 programme refugees are expected to arrive in different groupings over the rest of this month. We expect to have admitted the majority of refugees of our resettlement quota of 520 by the end of September and to have reached that full quota by mid October. This is a year ahead of the EU resettlement deadline.
Following meetings with Greek authorities and the Director of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, Mr John Roycroft in Athens this June, an accelerated pledge process has been agreed which will now allow Ireland to meet its relocation obligations to Greece in full, within the timeline of the relocation programme.
An Irish mission is in Athens at this very moment to manage a pledge of an additional 60 relocations that we have sent to the Greek authorities. Ireland will issue a further pledge for 70 relocations in October and 80 every month thereafter. Some additional numbers will be added to future pledges to allow Ireland to meet its full obligations in relation to numbers. The programme ends in September 2017.
In addition, Ireland is also currently in discussions with the Greek authorities about taking in unaccompanied minors. Subject to agreement in this regard with Greek colleagues, Tusla officials will accompany a team of officials from the Irish Refugee Protection Programme to Greece in October to arrange for some unaccompanied young people to come to Ireland.
The relocation programme with the Italian authorities is not working effectively and numerous Member States have been unable, for technical reasons on the Italian side, to give effect to their commitments. Unfortunately, no resolution to this issue has been found to-date despite bilateral diplomatic efforts by Ireland and other countries as well.
It is expected that most of those who come in under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme will be granted a permanent status with all rights to work, study etc unlike SHAP. The Irish Refugee Protection Programme is a far superior scheme in relation to offering security and status for displaced people in need of protection. SHAP by virtue of its conditions resulted in a large administrative burden especially in our Family Reunification Unit and it excluded other nationalities who called for a similar programme.
The Irish Refugee Protection Programme has a much broader remit and encompasses many in need of international protection. The outcomes are certain and the rights attached are much more conducive to independent living, as there is no ongoing reliance on sponsors and no prohibition on depending on the State. The Government has invested a huge amount of staff time into moving the Irish Refugee Protection Programme into the position where people in need of protection can come to Ireland under a fair and humanitarian scheme. 119 were admitted under SHAP and we hope to have close to 1,000 admitted under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme by the year end. With the implementation of a far superior Irish Refugee Protection Programme , SHAP is not a relevant or attractive option in the new circumstances.
What we need are more people here in Ireland under our protection rather than more schemes and the resultant draw on finite resources with limited benefit. The government remains determined to use our resources to remove any roadblocks internationally that have slowed and frustrated our efforts to admit qualified people to Ireland. I am pleased to say those efforts are now bearing real fruit, which I witnessed yesterday at Dublin Airport, with steadily increasing numbers of adults and children arriving in the country. This process will continue and will be the focus of all our efforts for the next 15 months.
Let me just finish by wishing you Enda, your colleagues and all speakers and participants here this morning every success for this timely conference. You have assembled a very exciting panel of speakers from all sides of the migration equation and I’m sure there will be valuable lessons to learn from their sharing their experiences. Officials from a number of key areas across the Department will be on hand throughout and I look forward to their reports.
Finally, let me say in my capacity as Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration & Integration, my door will always be open to those who wish to contribute positively to the State’s efforts to meet its legal and moral obligations as regards current and future mass migration.