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Refugee intake to treble to 1,800

Published 04/09/2015

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the refugee situation was
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the refugee situation was "heartbreaking and tragic"

At least 1,800 refugees will be welcomed to Ireland, effectively trebling original plans announced in July to accept 600 refugees, mainly from Syria and Eritrea, over the next two years.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald revealed the increase two days after images emerged of three-year-old Syria Aylan Kurdi's body being washed up on a Turkish beach, accepting government ministers failed to keep up with the public outcry over the tens of thousands of people fleeing to Europe's borders.

"What we have seen is heartbreaking and tragic and I think it demands the most comprehensive response," she said.

"I think it will be in the thousands. It's very hard to put a precise figure on it. We want to respond in as humanitarian a way as possible."

Ms Fitzgerald said if European leaders agree to increase the number of refugees being accepted across the bloc to 150,000, it will effectively treble Ireland's commitment to the crisis.

"I believe that is a minimum of the response that we will be making," she told RTE Radio.

Ms Fitzgerald said Ireland and Europe's response should not only be about opening borders to refugees and migrants but also ongoing aid programmes, the naval search and rescue operation which has been extended into the autumn.

She said work was also needed in the countries of origin and more efforts were needed to interrupt people traffickers.

Separately, it is expected 3,500 to 4,000 people will seek asylum in Ireland this year. The Government made the announcement as the United Nations high commissioner called for Europe to draw up a common mass relocation plan for 200,000 refugees - the worst crisis of its kind since World War Two.

Germany has already accepted 35,000 vulnerable Syrians through a UN refugee scheme, Canada more than 10,000, Australia 5,600 and Switzerland 3,500.

Germany also expects to take in a total of 800,000 asylum seekers through all routes this year.

If ministers in Dublin were to take a similar approach to Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel then in the region of 40,000 asylum seekers could be accepted on Irish shores.

Sue Conlan, Irish Refugee Council chief executive, said Ireland's current offer was not good enough.

"It's not dealing with reality," she said.

"The numbers and the needs are far greater than that.

"We have to find a way to respond to the public sentiment where people in Ireland are saying we can do more and we need to do more."

Aid agencies and rights group including the Irish Refugee Council, Goal, Trocaire, Dochas, Oxfam, Crosscare, Comhlamh and the Migrant Rights Centre are meeting in Dublin today to discuss the response to the crisis.

Jerry O'Connor, of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said any increase in the numbers of people accepted in Ireland is welcome.

"It has been clear for some time that the figure of 600 was inadequate. So now we must ensure that our policy of admitting people to the country is formed with the same generosity of spirit which has seen our Navy rescue 6,000 men, women and children since May," he said.

"We believe Irish people want Ireland to lead and be proactive on this issue and not wait for the EU. It should be recalled that during the Bosnian War we lead Europe in terms of accepting refugees and there is no reason why that should not be the case today."

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said Ireland should do more than the promised increase and act without EU agreement.

"Europe has responded too slowly and Ireland must lead the way by playing its part," he said.

"The failure to deal with this refugee crisis has dramatically increased the costs of this humanitarian disaster. Thousands of people have died already. This is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two."

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