CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

 

I am delighted to have been invited to address this seminar and I would like to thank Emily Logan and members of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission for the invitation.  I welcome IHREC’s initiative to put the spotlight on such a complex global issue.  IHREC’s mandate to promote interculturalism offers a valuable opportunity to debate the key questions which arise for us in relation to migration and integration.   

 

Over the past three years, the scale of the international migration crisis has been brought forcibly home to us.  Daily, we see images of people fleeing conflict, braving the perilous waters of the Mediterranean to reach the coasts of Europe.   The Syrian conflict is only one aspect of a global migration challenge.  It is estimated by the UNHCR that approximately 65 million people are currently forcibly displaced worldwide, over 21 million of which are refugees. Children under the age of 18 make up half of the refugee population.  The scale of the crisis necessitates a global response.

 

Ireland has developed a response that is multi-faceted in nature.  As the title of today’s seminar indicates, our response has included humanitarian aid, the development of a targeted refugee programme, reform of our international protection  processes and a renewed focus on promoting integration.  These responses are necessarily happening simultaneously.

 

Turning firstly to our humanitarian response, it is important to note that our commitment to the people of regions which are particularly affected by forced displacement, predates the mass movements into Europe which we have seen over the past few years. Since 2012, we have provided €67.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria and the region.  Over the same period, we have provided over €100 million for victims of crises across the Horn of Africa, including €30 million for the South Sudan crisis alone. We continue to provide support to people affected by major crisis situations in Iraq, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic.

 

Ireland supports the work of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in two main ways: through core funding which UNHCR allocates in accordance with its own agreed strategic and operational priorities; and through funding in response to specific appeals. In 2016, for example, we provided €7 million in core funding to the agency and we are increasing that contribution to €7.5 million this year. We provided an additional €1.2 million last year to specific UNHCR programmes with South Sudanese refugees.

 

In addition to humanitarian assistance, Ireland’s development programme, with its focus on Sub-Saharan Africa, plays a key role in addressing the root causes of displacement, which include extreme poverty and lack of economic opportunities for young people, as well as instability and conflict.

 

We are providing €3 million over the 2016-2020 period to the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, which specifically addresses instability and the root causes of irregular migration from that continent.  Ireland’s contribution is earmarked for work in the Horn of Africa, where it is being used for a wide range of activities, notably programmes enhancing the living conditions and economic opportunities of potential migrants and returnees, strengthening the resilience of vulnerable communities and improving the living conditions of refugees and the communities which host them.

 

But we have not only been active in the humanitarian and development fields. Ireland has also played an important role in moving the international debate on migration and displacement forward, notably through our role as co-facilitator in discussions at the United Nations on how to address the current crisis and similar crises in the future in a long-term and sustainable manner.  Ambassador David Donoghue will speak to you in more detail on his role in jointly leading the negotiations.  The outcome of those discussions was adopted at last September’s UN  Summit on Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants. I represented Ireland at the Summit which brought the international community together behind a more humane and coordinated approach to this issue. Its outcome clearly reaffirmed the centrality of the legal and normative framework relating to refugees and migrants that already exists and commits the Member States of the UN to its implementation.  We must recognise, however, that not enough has been done to reduce the need for people to flee in the first place, that many fall into the hands of people smugglers, that responsibility for protecting and assisting refugees is not being shared fairly, that too many refugees spend too long in camps, that they often face discrimination in the countries where they arrive; and that the protection regime is chronically underfunded.

 

The Summit, therefore, was the start rather than the culmination of a process. The international community now has a commitment to adopt a Global Compact on Refugees in 2018 and to negotiate a Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, also to be adopted in 2018.  Ireland is justifiably proud of our contribution to this process.

 

Ireland has also sought proactively to demonstrate solidarity with our EU partners.  We are conscious that the crisis has imposed heavy demands on certain frontline EU Member States, particularly Greece.  In response, the Government decided that it needed to establish a new refugee programme.  More than 80 people are arriving in Ireland every month under the Programme.  86 people are due to arrive within the next fortnight  from camps in Greece.  In December I travelled to Athens to see the situation first hand, meet with NGOs and discuss our co-operation with Prime Minister Tsipras. I informed the Prime Minister that we will meet our commitment under the EU’s Relocation Programme to relocate 1,100 refugees from Greece by next September. 

 

The majority of refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict are temporarily sheltering in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.  The Irish Government has wished to show solidarity with Lebanon, which is hosting 1.5m Syrian refugees, by directing some of our focus towards the refugees located there.  As a result, we have increased our Resettlement Programme four-fold since 2015.  519 refugees have come to Ireland to date from Lebanon, a year ahead of the EU deadline.  A further 260 refugees will begin to arrive shortly, following a selection mission last October.  A further selection mission will travel to Lebanon next month to select a further 260 refugees to come to Ireland.  457 refugees have already moved to permanent homes across Ireland.   More will move into their new homes over the next month. 

 

The migrant crisis has challenged us all at a humanitarian and at a structural level.  This has led to the most significant period of reform and response by Government in the past fifteen years.  It has been difficult at times to put the facts into the public domain as people rightly have a human and emotional response to the often harrowing images flashing across our screen from conflict zones.  I welcome this opportunity today to update you on the significant reforms that we have delivered at this time of great challenge.

 

In December 2015, I introduced the biggest single reform of our processes in the International Protection Bill 2015. On the last day of 2016, I signed the commencement orders for the Act to introduce a single application procedure for all protection applicants.

 

There is a legacy backlog to be dealt with first, but once the single procedure is up and running effectively, all matters relevant to an applicant’s case to be granted refugee status, subsidiary protection or permission to remain can be assessed in a three stage, single application.

 

I have established a new International Protection Office which will process the single procedure application and issue recommendations to me independently. If an applicant has not proven his or her eligibility for refugee status or subsidiary protection, the Protection Officer can then assess all matters that might be relevant to granting permission to remain. The recommendation on refugee status or subsidiary protection status, if negative, can be appealed to the new International Protection Appeals Tribunal.

 

Another area of significant reform directly connected with the programme I have been implementing, is that of dealing with legacy cases.  A recent analysis by my Department confirms the significant improvements in the length of time spent in the system.  A concerted effort has been made by my Department during this period of reform which has resulted in a welcome reduction in the numbers who are in the system for over 3 years or over 5 years respectively.

 

When the working group chaired by Judge Bryan McMahon examined the figures in 2015 there were 2,695 people in Direct Provision for three or more years. This has now been reduced by 55% to 1,204 people.   Similarly, the number of persons in the system for five years or more reduced by 58%, from 1,946 persons to 811.  When those who have been granted status or have a deportation order issued against them are excluded from this latter figure, the number reduces to 251.  For one reason or another, such as Judicial Reviews outstanding, the vast majority of these are currently not processable and in effect almost all persons over five years in the system that can be processed have been.  This is a major achievement and has impacted directly on the lives of a large number of persons in the system.   The new single application procedure will significantly accelerate the determination process from now on.

 

Last June, Minister Stanton and I reported on the considerable progress which had been made in implementing the recommendations of the Report of the Working Group. A year since the publication of the Report, some 80% were found to have been implemented, partially implemented or were in progress. In January, we completed a further audit of progress, which I will publish shortly. This shows that 92% of the 173 recommendations have a full or partial implementation rate.

 

The increase in the number of persons exiting the system has brought new challenges.  The Reception and Integration Agency is currently working on developing supports to assist persons making the transition to independent living from Direct Provision.   EU funding is being provided to a number of NGOs for projects aimed at helping those with status to access housing and to settle into communities across the country.

 

The commitments that we have assumed under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme will result in increased numbers of refugees moving into homes across the country over the next years.  This requires a new focus on integration.  I am reminded of the celebrated Nigerian proverb that ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child’.  I firmly believe that it takes a whole community to integrate migrants.  It is the everyday encounters that shape the person’s sense of belonging or of exclusion.  I was struck by the reaction of a refugee who had come to Ireland some years ago under our Refugee Resettlement Programme.  He said that he felt at home in Ireland because his neighbours said hello to him on the street.  Something very simple but very important. 

 

The process of integrating migrants must involve the whole community. Minister David Stanton and I will launch the Migrant Integration Strategy next week.  My aim is that the Strategy should be the catalyst for action by a wide range of actors across Ireland.  I want to see Government Departments, public bodies, communities, workplaces, businesses, civil society organisations all playing their part in promoting integration.

 

We need to avoid the mistakes of other countries.  We have to avoid the emergence of ghettos where new communities become segregated from the wider society.  We also have to ensure that migrants get to benefit from the same career opportunities and career advancement as non-migrants.  We do not want migrants to be caught for a lifetime in low-paid or precarious jobs.  We have seen in other countries that discrimination and disadvantage can lead to radicalisation and alienation.  Migrants, particularly those who have arrived recently, need to access information and to develop the relationships necessary to understand Ireland.  Equally, Ireland has a responsibility to understand them.

 

I meet many families in my role as Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality.  I am struck by the similarity of the hopes and ambitions of migrant and non-migrant families.  All want their children to do well, to be happy and to realise their potential.  All want to have a decent livelihood.  There is more that joins us than that separates us.  At the same time, we have to recognise that our systems will have to adapt or to change to meet the challenges of greater diversity.

 

95,000 persons from 170 countries have become Irish citizens since citizenship ceremonies were introduced in 2011.  

 

Previous social inclusion measures have ensured that migrants do not experience significantly higher risks of poverty because of their migrant status.  In 2012, the differentials in the at risk of poverty rates for citizens and third country nationals were narrowest in Ireland of all EU Member States. 

 

But the process of integrating migrants is entering a new phase.  Research is needed to understand how integration can be supported most effectively as the composition of the migrant population changes and as the complex needs of communities evolve.  The sense of identity and needs of second and third generation migrants will be different from those of their parents and grandparents.  Equally, the manner in which Irish society responds to migrants may differ, depending on whether the person is born outside Ireland or of migrant origin.   We need research on good practice in other countries and other cities to help us to develop approaches to interculturalism that can work within the Irish system.  IHREC can play a valuable role in developing a body of knowledge on interculturalism that can assist policy development on this issue.  

 

The Government has a certain role to play in the process of developing an intercultural society.  It will provide a framework for action by public services.  Its structures will work to ensure that migrants do not experience discrimination in employment or in the provision of goods and services. 

 

I look also to communities to play their part in the integration process.  The wisdom of our forebears recognises that our well-being often rests on the support and friendship of our neighbours.  As the traditional Irish proverb states: ‘It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.’  It is in the daily interactions, in workplaces, schools, shops, places of worship that migrants will determine their sense of belonging.   Integration has become a fact of life for many communities.  I look to such communities to provide leadership in demonstrating that there is strength in unity and in diversity.      

 

Much of the focus of international attention is on rescuing refugees from situations of crisis and on providing for their immediate needs.  However, the greater commitment has to be to supporting the refugee’s integration in the host country.  That process is intensive, sensitive and long-term.  It involves not only changes to frontline services but also, and more importantly, changes in attitudes among host populations.  

 

A refugee  needs more than a house.  A refugee needs a community.  We have seen the dangers of hardening attitudes within our societies towards strangers.   Such attitudes can take root frighteningly easily.  We must look forward to ensure that such attitudes do not take root here.   As a people who have received shelter from others in our moments of crisis, we should not be found wanting in our readiness to help others in need. 

 

ENDS