Belfast Telegraph

Taoiseach Enda Kenny describes refugee crisis as 'human catastrophe'

The Taoiseach has described the refugee crisis as a 'human catastrophe' and spoke of the heart-rending photographs of the body of 3-year old Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Bodrum,Turkey which appeared in media around the world.

“I think the picture was absolutely shocking.,” he said.

“Any parent could see that child in their own arms. Here’s the body of a young boy, a life lost and washed up on a beach like driftwood.

"I think that picture more than any I’ve seen may shock political processes into taking action, both in terms of the stream of migrants and the causes that underlie that.”

The Republic of Ireland - along with other EU countries - is coming under increasing pressure to accept more refugees in the light of the growing crisis. There have been growing calls for Ireland to take in a greater numbers than the amount of 600 to 1000 until 2017 which has been agreed to so far.

Speaking after a bilateral meeting with the French President, Francois Hollande, Mr Kenny said, “It’s not realistic to set a figure on this, but I do think that there will be a real focus following the justice minister’s meeting [in Brussels on September 14th.

"The past experience is that countries will not measure up if they’re asked to do so purely voluntarily, so it may well be that they’re going to have to work out a formula here, to say what numbers are appropriate for each individual country”.

He added that he had told the Republic's Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to go to the meeting in Brussels later this month 'with a flexible mind, and we’ve got to be realistic in what we can contribute'.

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The Taoiseach added: "We can’t continue to have this situation.”

After an hour-long meeting at the Elysee, President Hollande also called on EU leaders to come up with a new strategy to deal with the crisis.

“The photograph of the child on the beach brings a lot of emotion and it calls on the European conscience,” he said.

“This family were persecuted fleeing Syria - four million people are looking for a place to stay. And this could happen again as we are talking, to another family taking to the seas."

President Hollande added that current measures to help the refugees 'are not longer sufficient - it’s not about making speeches, it’s about making decisions'.

France, Germany and Italy have urged a re-think of the EU rules to allow a 'fair distribution' of migrants. More than 350,000 people fleeing conflict have crossed the Mediterranean since January.

Mr Kenny was speaking in Paris at the start of a two-day visit to France, during which he will visit the city of Lyon to sign trade agreements. There are currently 60 Irish companies operating in France employing over 10,000 people.

Total trade between France and Ireland is worth just over €15bn a year and France is currently Ireland’s second largest global market for food and drinks.

It was the first bilateral meeting between the leaders since October 2012, and the Taoiseach and President Hollande also discussed climate change and also Britain’s role in the EU.

Mr Kenny also invited the French President to take part in an event in Dublin next July as part of the  commemorations of the centenary of the first world war.

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