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Michael D Higgins hits out at UN and EU for 'great failure' on refugees

Published 04/09/2015

Michael D Higgins made a plea for ordinary people to offer at least shelter and security to refugees
Michael D Higgins made a plea for ordinary people to offer at least shelter and security to refugees

President Michael D Higgins has said the United Nations and European Union have failed tens of thousands of refugees and migrants dying and risking death for a new life.

In a plea for ordinary people to offer at least shelter and security, Mr Higgins called on communities to stand up to the negativity, racism and xenophobia which has reared up in some countries over the crisis.

"There is a great failure at the level of the UN and it must be addressed by the heads of state and heads of government," President Higgins said.

"There's a great failure I think as well in relation to the EU of not having been able to agree an adequate figure (of refugees) with an implementable regime and then in the short to medium term there is the issue how you deal with people currently on the ground."

President Higgins hit out at the world's leaders for not doing enough to deal with the war in Syria, particularly through the UN Security Council.

He said questions need to be asked about the companies and countries buying oil from the Islamic State, the arms suppliers and those who are witnessing people smuggling.

Mr Higgins said he was shocked to learn that only one-third of a UN appeal target for aid for Syria has been reached while the World Food Programme has been forced to halve ration supplies to refugee camps.

He urged ordinary people to do the right thing.

In an interview with RTE, Mr Higgins rejected that it was easy for him to make demands of a society which has been deeply scarred by years of austerity, unemployment and a housing crisis.

He said he was irrelevant and urged people to share the responsibility of human tragedy.

Mr Higgins said: "I think it is to the credit of these great people that even though they have taken a great hit, as a result of an imposed economic paradigm that I have often contested, that they are the people who will come forward first and say come and share with us at least shelter, some security and we will be of some assistance.

"That is the Irish way at its best.

"The other way of encouraging misery - that is by a competition between those who are poor, those who are on the margins - has always been negative and has produced in its day racism and xenophobia in Europe which sadly are reappearing."

Mr Higgins said people should look at their own Irish heritage to empathise with the thousands of people fleeing to Europe's borders for a better life.

"I think they should not be afraid. I think what would be most dangerous, and it has happened already in certain parts of Europe, is where people have set up a war among the poor," he said.

"The fact of the matter is these are people who are fleeing from persecution. These are people whose children are being lost at sea. These are people who are being smuggled, people seeking to escape from slavery.

"We have to decide at certain times in our life to do what is right and what is right is to come to the assistance of those who like our own ancestors were being lost at sea."

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