UNHCR: Irish commitment to refugees shows way forward for those forced to flee


Volker Turk gives an address at the IIEA  © IIEA

Ireland's comprehensive response to refugees shows a level of commitment that is urgently needed from all countries, said Volker Türk, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, in Dublin today (Tuesday June 6).

Speaking at the Institute of International and European Affairs, Mr Türk said that Ireland's willingness to engage internationally on refugee issues, co-leading the process that led to the New York declaration, conducting search and rescue activities in the Mediterranean, and increasing commitments to resettlement should serve as an example to other countries grappling with how to respond to the growing numbers of people forced to flee their homes because of war and persecution. 

"Refugees are an international responsibility, and all countries need to share this equitably" said Mr Türk. "The Irish people have a long history of advocating strongly for the fundamental rights of all human beings, and they carry into the present and future a firm belief in the power of moral force to move mountains."

As co-chair of the UN Refugee and Migrant process last year, Ireland was an instrumental force in the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants by 193 countries.  It has also been a powerful voice for the implementation of the 2013 Sustainable Development Agenda, which calls for leaving no one, including refugees, behind.

In the afternoon, Mr Türk met Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald, and Minister Stanton, where they discussed recent progress on reforms of the protection system in Ireland as well as UNHCR priorities for forthcoming discussions at EU level on reform of the Common European Asylum System.

Volker Turk IIEA speech

Mr. Türk stated, "Ireland's international engagement shows the power of all countries, no matter their size, to affect real change. In practical terms, Ireland has not been found wanting - it is supporting those developing and middle income countries hosting the majority of the world's refugees. It is also providing opportunities for some of the most vulnerable refugees to be resettled out of precarious situations so they build a future for themselves and their families. Ireland is now resettling 520 refugees a year, a figure we strongly encourage the authorities to maintain into the future."

Mr. Türk said that much progress has been made in Ireland since the visit of the former High Commissioner for Refugees, and current Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres in 2012. Recognition rates of refugees had returned to European Union averages, while crucial reforms of asylum legislation and decreases in average processing times showed that change is possible with the right levels of political commitment.

He added, however, that in light of recent limitations introduced on family reunification, it will be important for Ireland to consider new pathways for refugees to find safety, including through private sponsorship schemes.

"There are those who argue that the conditions of refugees living far away are not our concern, or our duty. However Ireland's history of flight and migration put it in a unique position to remind the world that refugees are an international responsibility, and all countries need to share this equitably. "