O'DONNELL SAYS IRISH PEOPLE EXPECT "COMPASSIONATE, PRAGMATIC, AND FAIR RESPONSE TO REFUGEES"
- Says our refugee policy must not be diminished or shaped by abuses of the asylum system by some
The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Liz O'Donnell TD, says most Irish citizens expect nothing less than a compassionate, pragmatic and fair response to refugees in line with our international obligations and the dictates of natural justice.
Speaking at the True Colours Conference on "Refugee Women - Victims or Survivors?" in Dublin Castle this morning, Minister O'Donnell, who has responsibility for human rights, said we would be doing ourselves a great disservice if we allowed our domestic policy on refugees to be diminished or shaped by the undoubted fact that some economic immigrants abuse asylum.
"As recently as 1992 a refugee arriving here seeking asylum was a rare thing. Now, with our successful economy, we join the other rich countries of Europe in becoming a destination for the thousands of people on the move seeking political asylum or economic opportunities. The human rights perspective must pervade all our policies in regard to asylum seekers and immigrants.
"This is a principle that must be adhered to without qualification. Illegal migration must be countered and regulated. Trafficking of people must be tackled. Meeting these challenges need not mean diminishing our compassion for refugees," Minister O'Donnell said.
She said under our international obligations, and more importantly in the name of our common humanity we had a duty to respond to a refugee's call for our protection.
"The right to that protection, the determination of refugee status, is what we have to consider, on the merits of each case, in the first instance. Afterwards, when status is given after due process in the context of his or her integration into our society, we can examine the ways in which the talents of the refugee, can be used to our mutual benefit. We need to develop an integration
policy to assist the refugee with status settle into our society in a way that respects diversity," Minister O'Donnell added.
The Minister said if we were affronted at the sight of Chechen refugees queuing for assistance in a Russian winter, should we not be equally affronted - or more so - at the sight of asylum seekers queuing out of doors for hours on end for basic services in Mount Street.
"However frustrated we are at the inability of humanitarian agencies to reach the vulnerable in war-torn Chechnya, we can at least ensure that our own services are readily available to those seeking asylum in Ireland. We need a more integrated and efficient approach by the State and its agencies. It will require a broad consensus in civil society and politics. Tolerance of diversity must be actively fostered and racism countered," she added.
Minister O'Donnell said we could not treat the issue of refugees in Ireland in isolation from the international environment which gave rise to a growing number of humanitarian crises.
"A fully integrated approach requires our active participation in international efforts to address crises where they occur and to devise strategies for prevention and reconciliation. For the great majority of refugees, the only durable solution, indeed the only desired solution is a return home in safety and security. We must continue to play an active role in making this happen," she added.
The Minister praised the role of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees).
"Since opening an office in Dublin, it has provided invaluable assistance to us in our efforts to develop and improve our capacity to deal with asylum applications. We have developed valuable partnerships in Kosovo, where Ireland is supporting UNHCR's winterisation activities, and in East Timor, where we are one of the man contributors to UNHCR programmes for the protection of refugees," she added.Top