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Ireland and Refugees

At the beginning, if I would make one appeal on this legislation – International Protection Bill 2015 - it would be that when we come to Committee Stage we might approach it in a flexible way because it is a complex issue which to some extent is changing day by day. As we watched the television pictures in recent times of the movement of refugees, it was, to say the least, a most shocking spectacle. Particularly when one looks at the children who were involved in those cases, one gets the sense that one wants to do something substantial to make our contribution. We should not in any way try to shirk the responsibility we should feel. In fact, it is in our tradition. It is expected of us that we would be to the fore when it comes to humanitarian policies. That is the way we should approach this legislation.

We have much to learn from the system as existed heretofore and while there may be some good aspects to it, often under the radar there were matters that we should not feel too happy about. Unfortunately, for those who found themselves in inadequate situations, they tend to stay silent to some extent lest they might in some way endanger their immigration prospects.  That is understandable. It is like people going to America without proper documentation. Often they are wary and cannot look for their rights. To some extent they are in a hiatus while that is happening. In our particular case, those of us who were able to experience aspects of it could see some of the difficulties for people who were waiting for a long time to be processed and to have their cases concluded. It is possible that was allowed to continue for too long and it created, again under the radar, a degree of anger and dissatisfaction. When there is anger and dissatisfaction, people in that position may feel they are not respected members of society. That is the worst thing that can happen in such a case. Children have to be central to this legislation because they are always in the front line of suffering when issues like this arise. I am not just talking about the stream of thousands of people we saw on the move but even those in localities as well. We need to be careful not to treat those children differently from the way we would treat our own children in Ireland. We must respect certain aspects of their privacy and of their security and that must form a central part of the Bill.

I hope the issue of family reunification will be looked at closely because I believe the majority of refugees want to be reunited with their families. To be ostracised from one's own family as a result of force, having been ostracised from one's own community and country, is very worrying. The headings in the Bill are right. What are the rights that should be considered? The fear of execution and so on is included. Nobody is suggesting that the floodgates should be opened without thinking in terms of our own national security as well.

I spoke yesterday in the House on the issue of what is happening in the Middle East and the concept of war taking over from diplomacy and dialogue. One of the reasons there are huge numbers of people on the move is because of what is happening in places such as Syria. I have grave doubts about bombing campaigns helping that situation. It will disrupt normal life, bring about killings and spawn a whole new generation of terrorists who in turn will drive ordinary people from their own countries.

We all know that Europe in particular was not prepared for the movement that took place. It was clear that the European Union and its structures did not foresee the tsunami of people on the move which hit it. We still have not corrected that. Each state was asked to make a contribution.

This legislation provides precisely for us to deal with this issue in great detail. In dealing with it, we have to see how the people who come here will be helped to integrate into the new country of their adoption. That is particularly important. They have to be helped to integrate. I know many organisations doing great work in interacting with the new immigrants. They respect their culture, customs, religion and so on. All those issues have to be a part of it. I am not saying that can be provided for in legislation but the legislation should facilitate it because that will be vital for those people. We must bear in mind that those people must feel welcome in the community of their adoption. While we often hear some negative comments, by and large the comments have been compassionate, positive and constructive. We must encourage that whether through legislation or through other policies or resources. It is important to do that.

I often think of the people who emigrated to America in the 1950s and earlier who were met with signs saying "No Irish need apply". That did happen and the photographic evidence of it exists. Some even went further than that and said "No Irish or dogs admitted". That is how serious it was. That is our history and we must ensure that does not happen again.

Some deportation cases of which we have heard have been heartbreaking. I accept that being on the outside and without knowing all the detail, we are just guessing the background, but I saw cases of people who had integrated into the local society, their children were going to schools, they were highly respected and members of organisations and yet were set up for deportation. Even if I put forward only one case, there have been many others. Those cases should never be allowed to exist in future. There has to be a clear-cut methodology and we have to spell out the deportation process or voluntary return to the homeland. I think especially of deportation because while organisations can do a good job in ensuring a case is well put and people are defended, protected and have their rights looked after, many deportations have taken place in the middle of the night which I do not think is fair. If there is a possibility, as those people have said, that their lives would be in danger if they went back home, it is important we have a way of finding out how that is the case. It is not a matter of a simple registration when they come here. Often it is not easy to get that information from countries where there is turbulence and civil war. Can one imagine sending a mother with two or three children back to such a situation? When they go back one hears no more about them. Is it possible they would suffer, be tortured or even killed? Nothing should surprise us, given the depravity of ISIS and what it is capable of doing. The worst feature is that there are various factions in Syria and other places acting like warlords, all looking after territorial issues. There is no central consolidating feature. They are not like us with a democratic structure and a justice system and a methodology of having one's case heard. We need to be very sensitive in this area.

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