Time for parishes to start conversation on housing migrants - Minister Howlin
Minister Brendow Howlin says communities and parishes throughout County Wexford and the rest or Ireland need to 'open a conversation' about how they can help and offer sanctuary and a future to desperate refugees fleeing war zones in the Middle East.
'Religious and civil communities need to have that conversation to see what they can do, how many families they could accommodate and what practical help they can offer, the same as is being done in Germany,' the minister told this newspaper.
'We can't resolve the war in Syria in an instant, nor can we turn our back on Syrians escaping from the insane IS (Islamic State) crowd,' he said.
He said people who had suffered so much should not be subject to hostility and suspicion and it was vital that the ground work was laid before those fleeing war zones such as Syria and Iraq arrived here.
Minister Howlin said a distinction should be drawn between those fleeing conflict and those leaving their homes as economic migrants.
'International law understands that and we have to make that discernment.. for people from places like Bangladesh and sub-Saharan Africa, the solutuion for them is to make sure world trade- and world econimic regimes work towards offering them a real future in their homelands.. and it's not a case of simply dislodging the population of Africa to Europe,' he said.
Talking about the images of children fleeing conflict dying on the beaches in Turkey, the minister said 'everybody's conscience is jarred in this day and age with children being washed up on beaches and thousands of people dying in the Mediterranean Sea,' many in boats operated by people smugglers from Libya.
'The UN has to be involved, this is a world problem, not just one for Europe or America.. it is the humanitarian task of our times.'
He said that in the long-term, peace needs to be brought to Iraq and Syria, but more immediate measures are needed to ease the plight of the thousands fleeing these countries.
'There are thousands of people on the move and we need to open our doors in so far as is practicable.. this will have to be embraced by every parish and community, by religious and church groups and civil society to find space for desperate people in our communities and at government level we must find the resources for that.
'In the short terms there is the need for accommodation, and for things like fast-track planning in terms of temporary accommodation.'
Asked about how many refugees Ireland may be able to take in, Minister Howlin replied: 'It's very difficult to say numbers. We have to take a proportionate number that can be acommodated and given a sense of dignitity and have real future here'
'I think that clearly not everybody who is suffering poverty or oppression across the globe can be accommodated in Europe,' he said.
Under the current EU relocation plan for refugees, Ireland has agreed to take 600 asylum seekers, mainly from Syria and Eritrea, over the next two years, in addition to plans for the resettlement of 520 Syrians by the end of next year.