Good old family values will help us manage ‘the test of our generation’
Irish people are the most optimistic about the future of the European Union. The most recent Eurobarometer survey (autumn 2016) showed that 77% of people in Ireland were optimistic about the future of the European Union compared to an EU average of 50%. EU FACT
I’m from a giant family. I mean, we are regular sized people, there’s just loads of us. Family gatherings are rare and beautiful and, of course, tricky.
Can you see where I’m going with this? All the way to Europe baby, and this big old family that Ireland has been a part of since before most of us were born, the European Union.
There are 28 members in this unwieldy, charming, and relatively new family.
Right now though, we need to work through our growing pains.
Quickly too, because people need our help.
Rising to the challenge
The European Commission calls the migrant crisis ‘the test of our generation’. Not since WW2 have more people been on the move, and one in three asylum seekers in Europe is a child.
In September 2015, we saw the body of a toddler, Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach and a cry went out across the world.
We felt a collective responsibility. Alan’s parents had fled from ISIS and were trying to get him and his brother Galib to the safety of the EU. We resolved to do better, to step up and address the migrant crisis.
We had some good examples. Lebanon is home to over a million refugees, and it’s 62 times smaller than France.
All refugees arriving in Uganda are entitled to work and establish their own businesses, and are often even given a bit of land. Pope Francis, AKA the sweetest man in the world, commended the country’s “outstanding concern for welcoming refugees.”
So, how did we do? Well, we struggled. Despite being a family founded on the principles of peace and unity, bound by shared ideals of openness and inclusion, we continue to struggle.
Germany’s good example
Germany went all in, taking in more than one million newcomers in the past couple of years. Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia closed their borders, stranding around 62,000 refugees in Greece, a country already exhausted by an economic crisis.
Some 62,000 people is a less-than-capacity Croke Park crowd, and the EU pumped money over to help, yet the miserable conditions in many Greek camps persist to this day.
Meanwhile, Denmark requires newly arrived asylum seekers to hand over their jewellery to help pay for their stay in the country, and Hungary is busy building detention camps.
The European Commission is working to harmonise this messy reaction, but it’s difficult.
Can you imagine attempting to get policies through 28 governments? I can barely organise a hen party.
But the really difficult thing is the message we are sending, that refugees are not welcome.
Our leaders all met in Brussels just over a year ago
and — perhaps squinting to avoid the glare of their international obligations, surely worried about the increasing anti-immigrant sentiment in some of their own countries — agreed that all of those arriving irregularly on Greek islands should be returned to Turkey.
Yes, the same Turkey that’s morphing into an autocratic state before our eyes. The EU-Turkey deal meant that Turkey would receive €6 billion to assist the refugees, Turkish nationals would be granted visa-free travel to Europe, and a humanitarian scheme to transfer Syrians from Turkey to other European countries would begin.
This last part is happening, but super slowly. Some delay is to be expected, it’s a ton of work on official, diplomatic and ministerial levels, and at EU level, but it’s frustrating.
Irish refugee response
Under The Irish Refugee Protection Programme, our Government committed to welcoming 4,000 people. Todate, just 627 programme refugees have arrived under the resettlement aspect, and 382 people from Greece under relocation.
With the EU-Turkey deal, I wonder if we shirked our responsibility. I get it, believe me. My response to pretty much anything difficult is to turn to the person nearest me and say ‘Um, can you please handle this? I have cramps.’ But this is the most profound moral crisis of our time.
What if those desperate Eritreans packed into boats were Norwegian ladies holding little blonde toddlers? If those hungry Afghan men shuffling through a frozen detention camp in Hungary looked and spoke like the prevailing idea of Irishmen?
Not necessarily chubby with brown hair and somehow also a red beard, but like, white and English speaking. Would that change how we treated them? I believe it would.
This European family we have created and nurtured together is still a bit wonky — see that mad old uncle Brexit as he wanders out the door — but it’s a family that has enriched its members’ lives and kept us safe for over half a century.
Families either grow or die out. There are many people who will work hard, drink a lot of coffee, tell bad jokes and complain about the rain, just like the rest of us do, and they need us to invite them in. We need them too, and we would be lucky to have them.
Comment: EU member states’ responses to refugee crisis
Pope Francis — AKA the sweetest man in the world — with refugees, during his general audience, in Aula Paolo VI at the Vatican, on August 3, 2016.