Check Against Delivery
Ceann Comhairle, Deputies
I welcome this opportunity to again address the challenges that have arisen from the biggest displacement of migrants in modern times.
Conflict is especially cruel to children. They are not just robbed of their homes, sometimes their families - they are also deprived of their futures.
Sustainable solutions are needed for refugees worldwide. It's not just food and shelter. That's just the beginning - and an important beginning - but we must move quickly on to medium and longer term needs like education.
Ireland’s humanitarian response is focused on where needs are greatest, particularly on those affected by the most severe crises, especially protracted and forgotten emergencies.
Since the migration crisis began the actions of this Government and the previous one reflects the goodwill and concern of the Irish people to reach out and respond to those fleeing conflict and exploitation.
101 unaccompanied minors have sought asylum in Ireland since January of this year. 59 are currently in the care of Tusla.
In the sincere emotion that the witnessing of such a plight evokes, we also have a duty to ensure high standards in responding to children in need of international protection, as we have done in recent years offering them foster homes instead of hostels, which were a disaster.
My priority in establishing the Irish Refugee Protection Programme in 2015, working with EU colleagues, has always been children and families. Ireland has already met and surpassed its resettlement commitments that is children coming from refugee camps, under the two year EU programme. To-date 500 of the 520 programme refugees who have now arrived in Ireland includes 231 adults and 269 children. I have recently pledged to accept an additional 260 refugees, also from the refugee camps, in 2017 with a significant further commitment to be confirmed in 2017.
Furthermore, under our relocation programme a total of 58 adults and 51 children have arrived to-date. We have confirmed pledges for another 124 adults and 91 children to arrive here by year end.
In total 320 children have arrived in Ireland with a further 91 en-route under the IRPP. And as a result of the ongoing work of our teams here in Ireland and on the ground in Greece, hundreds more will arrive next year.
As Minister for Justice and Equality I am proud that Ireland opted-in voluntarily, with the approval of this House to the EU decisions offering resettlement and to the EU Relocation programme. Though a small country, we are already in the top ten per capita of countries who have successfully relocated and resettled people under the programme.
The situation in Calais is developing on a daily basis. Like many of you in this house I have watched the distressing and disturbing pictures on television over the last number of months. I have also seen the determination of the people there, in grave circumstances, to form a community. It is an indication of the natural human desire for a community and a place where we can root ourselves.
The Government intends to continue with its efforts to increase the intake from the relocation countries of unaccompanied minors who are in similar circumstances to those in Calais. If it emerges from Calais over the coming weeks that Ireland is a genuine location of choice for some of these young people, and our assistance is requested, we can of course respond in a humanitarian and proactive way.
The wishes of the children must also be respected. A defining characteristic of the refugees who have gathered in Calais, including unaccompanied minors, has been their very strong desire to go to the UK as their ultimate destination. In our sincere efforts to respond to the migrant crisis, it is essential that we do not impose our perspectives or solutions upon them.
There is serious engagement between our colleagues in both France and the United Kingdom to work together to offer humanitarian protection to these vulnerable young people. President Hollande has committed to protect any unaccompanied minors who are not offered protection in the United Kingdom.
Ireland has had to learn hard lessons from our mistakes in child welfare. It is crucial in our anxiety to respond that we do not undo those vital lessons. Previously misguided benevolence put our own children in danger. There has been a response from the public which reflects the desire of people to help. This is a huge long-term responsibility for any family to consider. The Irish Red Cross is responding to about 24 such offers of assistance for unaccompanied minors.
It would be unfair and wrong for us to leave this debate thinking that Ireland is not playing its part in responding properly to this humanitarian crisis. This Government’s response is motivated by our commitment to solidarity with our EU partners in addressing this EU crisis. These include responses to needs in our fellow EU Member States, where rights must also be vindicated and high standards of protection offered to vulnerable people. We are all part of this response and are actively working with the Greek and Italian authorities. We will not compromise on our efforts to fulfil our humanitarian and international protection obligations.
I am encouraged by the current humanitarian cooperation between France and the United Kingdom governments as a response to the situation in Calais. They are among the best resourced countries in the EU and many in Calais have the right to apply for asylum there. We will continue to monitor the situation in Calais and, as I said earlier, if our assistance is requested we can of course respond in a humanitarian and proactive way.
The EU has faced very difficult challenges but we have resolved to deal with problems together and Ireland is playing its part.