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New approach needed to Syrian refugees, says minister

A more mature debate about how to respond to the millions of people fleeing the war in Syria has been called for by Minister for International Development Joe McHugh.

After a week witnessing the lives of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, the minister said it was time to look at a new approach to the crisis.

Mr McHugh was in the Za'atari camp near the Syrian border in northern Jordan - home to about 80,000 people - in what has become a near permanent prefab city in the six years since the civil war began.

The minister also saw a tented village in Mhammaret, north Lebanon, where Concern support 236 Syrians, including 130 children, some of whom work on local farms for three US dollars a day.

In Beirut Mr McHugh spent an hour in Shatila refugee camp and a Trocaire project where about 40,000 mostly Palestinian people live, some of whom are third generation refugees and others more recent arrivals from Syria.

It is a virtual no go area for Lebanese authorities with militias linked to Palestinian factions in charge.

Mr McHugh said the experiences changed his perceptions of what a refugee camp is and that he was struck by the spirit of generosity in both Jordan and Lebanon to those worst affected by the war.

"Let's face it, I'm not going to defend the European Union that we're getting it right or we as a member of the EU that we have all the answers," Mr McHugh said.

"This is the crisis, this is the challenge of a generation and we have to look at new ways of doing things.

"We have to have a very open and honest debate, even by calling it the migration crisis that just sends out a negative connotation straight away.

"Really the way I see it is we have a crisis in terms of numbers but it's how we manage and how we can be a bit more mature about the debate."

Ireland has spent 70 million euro on aid and development in direct response to the Syrian crisis since 2012 through its overseas aid and development agency Irish Aid and by supporting UN agencies and NGOs.

The international community has spent about 4.5 billion euro.

Campaigners have criticised Ireland's commitment to take in 4,000 refugees direct from camps in Lebanon and Turkey and separately from Greece with several million people having fled Syria. Some 760 arrived last year.

Mr McHugh said: "Are we doing enough? We are getting criticised at large by the general public - we need to be doing more, we can be doing more."

But the minister also said: "People in Ireland are very, very open to taking refugees in. There's an openness, a warmth, there's a feeling that this is the right thing to do.

"We have to manage it. If there's already pressures on schools, school numbers, if there's already pressures on local health services the general population want to see extra resources so it's about managing it and doing it in the proper way."

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