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Topical Issues Debate
13th October 2016
Opening remarks by Minister of State Catherine Byrne TD on behalf of the
Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald TD
As the Tánaiste has recently outlined in responses to a number of Parliamentary Questions on this issue, we should be clear that there is no ‘official’ refugee or migrant camp in Calais. Calais does not fall under the EU relocation or resettlement decisions that Ireland has opted into and therefore the people in Calais are not eligible for the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, because they are under the jurisdiction of the French authorities and have the right to apply for international protection in France. The French authorities have recently announced that they will close the unofficial migrant camp in Calais by the end of this year and will move the approximately 9,000 inhabitants to new accommodation in reception centres across the country. This is being done to protect the security of the people of Calais, to maintain public order and to ensure dignified conditions for the migrants and refugees currently living in the Calais camp, including unaccompanied minors.
We also need to bear in mind that a defining characteristic of the people in Calais, including unaccompanied minors, has been their very strong desire to go to the UK as their ultimate destination and that this is unlikely to change. In our sincere efforts to respond to the migrant crisis, it is essential that we do not impose our perspectives or solutions upon them. In that respect the Tánaiste and I do not see that a unilateral initiative from Ireland would be appropriate in this case, not least given the fact that this is a delicate situation involving the borders between two other Member States.
In relation to the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, Deputies will be aware that the Government Decision to establish the programme recognised the importance of prioritising family groups and in addressing the position of unaccompanied children. A significant number of those who have arrived to date under both the resettlement and relocation elements of the programme are children with one or two parents. Deputies will also be aware that when we talk about the Irish Refugee Protection Programme we are referring to relocation from Italy and Greece and resettlement under the UNHCR-led programme which is currently focused on resettling refugees from camps in Lebanon.
With regard to unaccompanied minors Ireland has formally indicated to Greece our desire to accept unaccompanied minors under the relocation mechanism and we now have a commitment from the Greek authorities that Ireland will be receiving the first group of unaccompanied minors before the end of the year. Officials from Tusla - the Child and Family Agency with statutory responsibility for the care of unaccompanied minors in the State – have recently travelled to Greece to assess first-hand the needs of those minors and to plan for their care and accommodation upon arrival.