O'Donnell urges Young People to be Defenders of Refugees and Tolerance in Ireland
Overseas Development and Human Right's Minister, Liz O'Donnell, T.D., has urged students to make "vital connections" between global injustice, underdevelopment and the modern phenomenon of mass migration and refugees in Europe.
Speaking at the launch of the Goal/Aidlink St. Patrick's Day badges project, the Minister said: "I want Irish school students to understand the complexities of migration and inform themselves of the causal link between wars, political upheaval, famine and underdevelopment and the men , women and children who end up as refugees in Ireland. These people are fleeing places as diverse as Eastern Europe, Africa and Afghanistan. Just as we show solidarity by giving aid to developing countries, nearer to home we can show that same solidarity. We can do this by being kind to refugees and migrants here in Ireland".
Provisional UNHCR figures for last year (2000) show that of the 452,000 asylum applications made in Europe, Ireland received 11,000 or 2.4%. The U.K. received 97,000 or 22%. Germany received more than 78,000. The Irish figures are small in absolute terms, but, relative to our population, they represent a significant challenge to Irish society. "How we respond to that challenge will be a defining test to our civilised values as a nation. The Government is putting in place a responsible, fair and humane framework involving comprehensive services and 400 extra staff", the Minister said. "The figures have grown steadily from a low base of just 500 in 1995 to 11,000 last year and reflect a worldwide movement of refugees. The rapid growth in our economy has put Ireland on the map as a destination like other EU countries".
The Irish Overseas Assistance Programme is expanding rapidly to meet the UN target of 0.7% of GNP and is set to rise from IR£260m this year to IR£800m in 2007.
The Minister said that public support is crucial to the endeavours of the Government and NGOs alike and applauded programmes such as the GOAL Aidlink St. Patrick's Day badges project for introducing thousands of school children to development issues. "Young people, in particular, can deploy their vigour and idealism to counter racism and intolerance and become, in effect, human rights defenders here in Ireland", she said.