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Martin McGuinness makes direct plea to David Cameron to accept more refugees from Syria and Middle East

By Claire Williamson

Published 03/09/2015

Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness

Deputy first minister Martin McGuinness has made a direct plea to the Prime Minister to accept more refugees from Syria and the Middle East.

It comes as the Sinn Fein MLA was speaking to David Cameron on the telephone urging him not to suspend the power-sharing government at Stormont following the recent political crisis sparked after the murder of ex-IRA man Kevin McGuigan.

Mr McGuinness said: "The world has been shocked by the harrowing images which have been beamed across the globe in recent days and we all have a responsibility to do everything in our power to alleviate this growing humanitarian crisis.

"I spoke to David Cameron today and made a direct appeal to him to permit entry to more refugees and to enable regions such as our own to welcome these people.

"I have no doubt the people of the North – and indeed Scotland and Wales – would gladly welcome any moves to allow more refugees to come here.

"My Department has already been exploring the feasibility of how we can do that.

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Shocking photo of dead Syrian child washed up on beach is 'wake-up call for David Cameron'  

“In fact, Junior Minister Jennifer McCann raised the issue at the Joint Ministerial Committee in June where there was a clear view from the devolved regions that more needs to be done to assist the refugees.

“And while there may be the possibility of taking unilateral steps, the most effective way of taking action would require the cooperation of the British Government.

"David Cameron told me he is open to such a discussion with the Executive and I intend to follow that up with the First Minister and the administrations in Scotland and Wales."

Calls for help have been stepped up after pictures emerged of a small boy lying face down in the sand on a Turkish beach as an official stands over him.

The boy was part of a group of 11 Syrians who drowned off the coastal town of Bodrum in Turkey after an apparent failed attempt to flee the war ravaged country.

The DUP have also called for more assistance for refugees in writing to the Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammon.

Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said:  "The picture of a young Kurdish boy whose body was found on a Turkish beach has shocked us all and highlighted the human cost of those who are seeking refuge away from places such as Syria.

"There is nothing wrong with advocating stronger controls on our borders but we must not confuse immigration policy to deal with economic migrants with how our country should respond to a humanitarian crisis. The family of the young boy whose image is now seared on our minds left their homeland, not in search of the most attractive benefits regime or the most comfortable standard of living, but fleeing from a country being ravaged by ISIL.

"It is important that as a nation we do not turn our back on such a crisis. The Government must do more to assist refugees, and whilst the outpouring of feeling on social media has helped highlight the issue, as individuals we are not powerless to help through donations to the many agencies helping refugees directly and providing vital humanitarian aid."

The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party Mike Nesbitt has said that if " we ignore the refugee crisis we lose sight of our common humanity".

The UUP MLA said: "The image of three year old Aylan Kurdi's body has demonstrated the human cost of this crisis in the most shocking way. No parent can avoid the "what if it were my family" question. Frankly, if we try to ignore this, we lose sight of our common humanity and diminish who we are.

“We, of all societies, should have empathy for those fleeing persecution and seeking better times. Our forefathers, both Ulster Scots and Irish, left this land in previous centuries and have gone on to make huge contributions to the making of the modern world.

“The United Kingdom must work with the European Union and the United Nations to deliver a fair, workable solution. In the great scheme of things, Northern Ireland has limited resources and can play a very small part in any solution, but the humane thing to do is play that part.”

SDLP Leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP said that the government must react quickly.

He said: “Like so many others across the length and breadth of these islands, my heart has broken seeing the images of refugees struggling and dying in their attempt to reach safe haven on our shores. We cannot stand idly by as a humanitarian crisis unfolds on the shores of the European Union.

“This is not a sudden development. The flow of people from the Mediterranean fleeing the worst conditions imaginable in Syria and surrounding countries has been building for months. That’s why I wrote to the Prime Minister in June to request immediate action to provide safety to those who find themselves in this horrendous position.

“I was appalled to receive a response from Immigration Minister James Brokenshire which suggested the best course of action would be preventing people embarking on the journey across the Mediterranean.

“Dismissing these people as ‘migrants’ and ‘swarms’ is not only deeply insulting and inflammatory: it is factually incorrect. Risking your life and the lives of your children in an attempt to flee war, persecution and oppression is an irrepressible human instinct: it is not an economic option. The Prime Minister must urgently reconsider the decision to end Operation Mare Nostrum in favour of more limited support which has cost hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. He must also commit to offering sanctuary to those so desperately in need of our help.

“Europe is at its best when we are united by our common humanity in the face of incredible injustice. We must find that spirit again and deliver urgent assistance to those who so desperately need it.”

Further reading:

Sinn Fein fury at Stormont suspension calls

Bleak times ahead if Northern Ireland's parties don't hit the road to agreement  

Northern Ireland protest to demand opening of borders to refugees  

Refugee crisis: Northern Ireland, and Britain, must open doors to help Syrians  

Refugee crisis: Desperate families try to board trains in Budapest after police withdraw from Keleti station

Thousands stranded as migrants remain barred from Budapest railway station  

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