From the Mediterranean to the Emerald Isle: Ireland’s Role in Upholding the Rights of Refugees and Asylum Seekers

MedNancy Roe is a Social Work and Masters Graduate from Trinity College Dublin (TCD). Graduating with a BSS in Social Work, she went on to complete a Masters in Race Ethnicity and Conflict (TCD) in 2014. She has since worked as a Social Worker and as an Intern with the Irish Refugee Council. This short reflection was written during this Internship.

Every day, refugees flee war, poverty and persecution and make long dangerous voyages over sea, often on make-shift boats, smuggled below deck, in the hope of reaching safety in Europe.

The recent refugee humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean has received much media coverage. The exposure of the atrocities in the Mediterranean (20 April 2015), where 800 refugees died, men, women and children, including Syrians, Eritreans and Somalia’s, has generated a platform for discussion, whereby Europe’s borders, policies and humanitarian responses are under scrutiny on the international stage. UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards noted that approximately 1,300 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean in the month of April alone (the total figure this year is approximately 1,776).

Political leaders and representatives in Europe, and elsewhere around the world are being forced to publicly address the issue. Irish President, Michael D Higgins condemned the European response to the crisis. He suggested that we can have a generous Europe based on human values, or one that has within its borders, racism, xenophobia and exclusion.

Two days after this atrocity, Mr Higgins visited Turkey and Lebanon, attending the 100th anniversary commemorations of Gallipoli. Reflecting upon the deaths and victims of World War I, Mr Higgins described “the enormous tragedy of war” as being “linked to “the outrageous aspirations of empire”. He also stated that the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East were still trapped by the “detritus of empire”. A hundred year after Gallipoli, clear parallels can be drawn with regards to the value and respect placed on human life across borders.

Shane O’ Curry, Director of ENAR Ireland advises that the crisis did not begin with the deaths in the Mediterranean, rather “that this crisis is borne out of years of instability in sub-Saharan Africa, north Africa and the Middle East, instability for which some EU countries bear significant responsibility”. O’ Curry urges the Taoiseach in his discussions with other European leaders to show leadership, offer concrete responses, and (quoting Amnesty International) to put people before borders. Continue reading “From the Mediterranean to the Emerald Isle: Ireland’s Role in Upholding the Rights of Refugees and Asylum Seekers”

From the Mediterranean to the Emerald Isle: Ireland’s Role in Upholding the Rights of Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Somali Refugees in Kenya: Key Agreement on Hold

Somali Refugees in Kenya. Picture Credit: UNHCRWe welcome the following guest post from Bríd Ní Ghráinne. Bríd is currently completing a DPhil at the Law Faculty, University of Oxford (with this post being cross-posted from the Oxford Human Rights Hub). She holds an LLM in Public International Law from Universiteit Leiden, the Netherlands, and a BCL (International) from the National University of Ireland, Galway.

As host to the largest Somali refugee population in the world, it is little wonder that Kenya’s shoulders have grown weary of carrying a burden which, in terms of numbers, falls just short of the half million mark. Continue reading “Somali Refugees in Kenya: Key Agreement on Hold”

Somali Refugees in Kenya: Key Agreement on Hold

International Human Rights Day 2013: Placing the Spotlight on Direct Provision

DP End Institutionalised LivingToday is International Human Rights Day 2013. This year, the theme is one of reflection on twenty years of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action on Human Rights. The Vienna Declaration emphasised the indivisibility and interconnectedness of all human rights protections. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is emphasising the human rights achievements over the last two decades. Indeed, the achievements of Ireland in the protection of human rights over the last twenty years should be commended in a host of areas: free speech, LGBT rights, placing refugee status determination on a statutory footing; further attempts to protect socio-economic rights; establishing a national human rights institution and providing some domestic effect to the European Convention on Human Rights (amongst a select few achievements).  This is not to say that Ireland is fully complying with its international or European human rights obligations in all these areas, but things have significantly progressed in the last two decades.  One issue that has emerged in the last 20 years however, has been how Ireland treats those who claim asylum in this State.

The modalities of direct provision were communicated to various government departments on international human rights day in December 1999. Fourteen years later, the Irish Refugee Council is today highlighting alternatives to the system of direct provision. The urgency for a different approach and a new way forward is further evidenced by yesterday’s reports from Dr Joan Giller in West Cork of the tremendous damage that the system of direct provision is causing.

In a new report the Irish Refugee Council is seeking to add to the debate on alternatives to the direct provision system.  Today, they have launched their new report, Direct Provision: Framing an Alternative Reception System for People Seeking International Protection. The Irish Refugee Council make it very clear, that not all the proposals contained are definitive nor is the report exhaustive, but the purpose of this very timely report is to start the debate on alternatives to the system of direct provision. While recognising the need for a transition to new arrangements, the Irish Refugee Council’s proposals include:

  • A single protection procedure be introduced as soon as possible in 2014 in order that the aim of processing the majority of new asylum claims within six months can be achieved. Asylum seekers be granted early legal advice when dealing with their asylum claim.
  • The weekly allowance currently paid to asylum seekers be increased in line with the increases in social welfare since 2001.
  • Restoration of universal child benefit for the children of asylum seekers.
  • Stays in reception centres be limited to 6 months, and such accommodation respects family life and the best interests of the child. There should be an independent complaints and inspection mechanisms.
  • A system be introduced to identify particularly vulnerable asylum seekers;
  • After six months in a reception centre, an asylum seeker be granted the right to work and the right to access the private rental market. Access to rent supplement/supplementary welfare allowance to be made on basis of satisfying means test already established.

It remains to be seen, whether this time next year, there will be progress towards dismantling the current direct provision system.

 

International Human Rights Day 2013: Placing the Spotlight on Direct Provision

The removal of support for integration in the Netherlands: the case of the refugee

The Dutch government announced last week that from 2013, it will no longer finance integration and language classes for newly arrived immigrants in the state. Despite an amendment proposed by opposition parties, it appears that there will be no exception for refugees in the Netherlands. The new measure is introduced as part of bill amending the Integration Act, which is currently being debated in parliament. Though under the proposed amendment, training will no longer be freely available to refugees, their ability to access a long term residence permit or citizenship status will still be dependent on whether they pass the state integration and language tests.  This announcement signifies yet another obstacle for those attempting to gain long term residence and ultimately citizenship status in the state. However, it also reveals the ambivalent attitude that the Dutch Government has towards refugees living in the state. Continue reading “The removal of support for integration in the Netherlands: the case of the refugee”

The removal of support for integration in the Netherlands: the case of the refugee

UNHCR #do1thing Campaign

From October 10th to October 24th, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Do 1 Thing campaign will be running. UNHCR Ireland, along with all other UNHCR agencies, are urging people to Do 1 Thing to show support for refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland and abroad. UNHCR estimates that in 2010, there were 43.75 million people worldwide who were displaced due to conflict and persecution. The developing world hosts 80% of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers. Ireland received 1, 939 individual applications for recognition of refugee status from asylum seekers in 2010. UNHCR is asking people to show their support in a number of ways:

  1. By learning a fact about refugees, meeting a refugee , watching a movie or read a book, get to know another culture, find out more about the history of refugees in Ireland and/or by donating to UNHCR.
  2. By writing a blog post, tweeting, posting a comment on Facebook or Google +. On Twitter use the hashtag #do1thing and on Facebook tag UNHCR Ireland.
  3. Letting friends know about UNHCR Ireland’s campaign and adding a twibbon on Twitter.
  4. Keeping up to date with UNHCR Ireland’s work on Facebook and Twitter.

Over the next two weeks, Human Rights in Ireland will be posting regularly on refugee and asylum issues as part of the #do1thing campaign. These short posts will highlight some key issues in relation to the refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland and internationally. It should also be noted that while these posts seek to contribute to the Do 1 Thing campaign, the opinions contained therein, do not necessarily represent the views of UNHCR or UNHCR Ireland.

UNHCR #do1thing Campaign

The Irish Lifeboat

A recent article in the Irish Times described comments by a leading Australian urban geographer, Prof. Brendan Gleeson of NUI Maynooth, that Ireland will become a ‘climate change lifeboat’. The idea is that as climate change causes rising sea levels, displacing vast overpopulated regions of the world, Ireland will be less physically affected leading to our ‘lifeboat’ status for large numbers of people who are effectively ‘climate refugees’. The BBC also reported the story, adding that if global temperatures rise by three or four degrees, as Prof. Gleeson predicts they will, the southern megacities in Africa, the sub-continental states and Asia will be the first to go under, taking with them a substantial proportion of our species. This will generate “enormous migratory shifts, as displaced and stressed populations flee the sea level rise and wildly destructive weather.” Ireland could become one of only a few habitable ‘lifeboat’ regions in the cooler extremes of the earth.

The concept of climate change refugees is a growing area of interest. For example a recent Oscar-nominated documentary film, Sun Come Up, tells the story of the Cateret Islanders of Papua New Guinea, considered the first climate change refugees as their island is predicted to sink. Another documentary, Climate Refugees, portrays “a new phenomenon in the global arena called ‘Climate Refugees’”, according to its blurb. Continue reading “The Irish Lifeboat”

The Irish Lifeboat

Ni Mhuirthile and Mullally on Female Genital Mutilation.

The 2010 edition of the Dublin University Law Journal is out (available by subscription on Westlaw IE) and features a number of articles of interest to readers, including pieces by past guest contributors to HRinI Rachael Walsh and Paul Daly. I would recommend in particular Siobhan Mullally and Tanya Ni Mhuirthile’s article “Reforming Laws on Female Genital Mutilation in Ireland: Responding to Gaps in Protection”. Ireland lacks any legislation specifically addressing FGM.  An exerpt follows after the break.

Continue reading “Ni Mhuirthile and Mullally on Female Genital Mutilation.”

Ni Mhuirthile and Mullally on Female Genital Mutilation.

Floods in Pakistan: A Case for a Convention on Climate Change Refugees?

The recent floods in Pakistan, described by one journalist as “beyond emotional comprehension” in the devastation wrought, have raised questions in this blog as elsewhere, as to the adequacy of the government’s response and the need for greater international coordination to deal with displaced persons. The floods are said to be an example of interactive disasters, whereby instead of being a single natural disaster beyond the control of states or organisations, they are instead an example of a “cascading series of political and economic catastrophes” requiring global strategic answers. The year 2010 has seen the greatest challenge to the climate change thesis in the form of the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia, with the apparent attempt to cover up data from Chinese weather stations snowballing into a climate science crisis. However the gravity of the effects of climate change are starting to mitigate the damage from those disastrous email correspondences, with a renewed acceptance that climate change is real and is beginning to display the horrific consequences foretold by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Continue reading “Floods in Pakistan: A Case for a Convention on Climate Change Refugees?”

Floods in Pakistan: A Case for a Convention on Climate Change Refugees?

Deirdre Duffy: Legitimate Victims, Illegitimate Agents

logoThis is our second guest post from Deirdre Duffy. You can read about Deirdre on our Guest Contributors page.

According to the author Stanley Cohen (1997), no group has been as systematically and consciously demonised as refugees and asylum seekers. In his analyses of the creation of moral panics Cohen argues that at no point have this group been portrayed – accurately or otherwise – as anything other than a threat to society as a whole. Their status as people in need of refuge and sanctuary has been constantly questioned. It is little wonder then that advocates of refugee and asylum seekers constantly try to underline this group’s victimhood. Asylum seekers are not, after all, seeking asylum without good reason. However, in the long term, this promotion of the victimhood of refugees and asylum seekers places them in an extremely precarious position, one felt by many vulnerable groups, where their villainy is only negated by their ability to be victims. While this may not seem to be problematic, it is quite disempowering and restrictive of their ability to move from being asylum seekers to ordinary members of society by themselves. Legitimacy means powerlessness.

Continue reading “Deirdre Duffy: Legitimate Victims, Illegitimate Agents”

Deirdre Duffy: Legitimate Victims, Illegitimate Agents

International Human Rights and Climate Change

Today, October 15, is Blog Action Day and this year’s issue is climate change. Over a decade ago, most countries joined an international treaty; the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to encourage action on the issue of global warming. The website of the UNFCC is here. More recently, a great number of nations, including Ireland but excluding the United States, ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 15, will take place  in Copenhagen, Denmark this December. The Conference website contains a wealth of information while The  Guardian has a good set of resources on COP15 here. COP15 has been billed as the most important Conference  to date.

The human rights challenges posed by climate change are myriad. We are becoming aware, in particular, of the phenomenon of  ‘climate change refugees’. The possibility that climate change will render the present inhabitants of small island nations stateless is very real. You can find the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ resources on climate change here, including its May 2009 report Forced Displacement in the Context of Climate Change: Challenges for States Under International Law.

Today the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development warned that international refugee law was inadequate to deal with migrants who have been displaced by the natural disasters which flow from climate change. In September, Steve Trent of the Environmental Justice Foundation similarly wrote on the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog that:

[T]here is a complete absence of any formal, enforceable, legal multilateral mechanism designed to address the needs of these people and assist in creating some greater equality and proportionality between those causing climate change and those most affected.

The 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was drafted in the immediate aftermath of the second world war; its focus on those who are forced from their country of origin through fear of persecution, “for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. In today’s world, the 1951 convention cannot meet the needs of climate refugees, as its narrow legal definitions will not apply to most of those affected by climate change. Also, the specific desire and best option for many will be to stay within their national boundaries if the financial and technical assistance to do so were forthcoming.

Just as the overarching threat of climate change is one of global responsibility, so is the fate of climate refugees. In this context, there is a clear and compelling imperative to create a new multilateral legal mechanism – and with it a new legal definition for climate refugees – that enshrines the right to life, food, health, water, housing and other essentials. This should apply to all those who are now affected and the millions more who will be affected by the changes in our climate created largely by a distant, and still largely unresponsive, wealthy west.

Continue reading “International Human Rights and Climate Change”

International Human Rights and Climate Change