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Refugee crisis: Northern Ireland political parties urge David Cameron to do more

Alliance tables motion calling for UK to accept more refugees

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson has tabled a motion calling for the UK to accept a sizable number of refugees in the wake of the migrant crisis facing Europe.

The East Antrim MLA made the move as outcry grew over the death of a young Syrian boy on a Turkish beach. A picture of the dead toddler, named as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, was circulated widely online.

The issue has also been submitted by Alliance as a matter of the day, meaning it could be debated in the Assembly on Monday as well as a full debate in future.

Mr Dickson said it was essential the UK offered resettlement places to help alleviate the crisis.

"Anyone looking at the pictures emerging cannot fail to be horrified at the suffering people are going through, a suffering so great that they risk their lives trying to escape it. The human cost has been evidenced by the heart-breaking picture of this young boy lying dead.

"More can and should be done to help. We have nothing less than a moral obligation to do so. Here in Northern Ireland, we can ensure provisions are in place to take in as many people as we can.

"The British Government should be taking a leadership role in this crisis by devoting an appropriate amount of resources to help and taking a sizable number of refugees in, in line with other EU nations. The Government has played an active role in similar situations in the past and this should be no different.

Sinn Fein

Meanwhile 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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“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.”

Read more

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Republic of Ireland

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny has described the refugee crisis as a 'human catastrophe' and 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.

“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'.

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."


In Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has written to David Cameron calling on the Prime Minister to increase the number of refugees taken in by the UK.

An emotional First Minister told the Scottish Parliament that Scotland will do ''everything possible'' to help tackle the crisis as she spoke of how she had been reduced to tears by images of a young child washed up dead on a beach.

The First Minister said in Scotland ''we stand ready to help offer sanctuary to refugees who need our help'' as she criticised Mr Cameron, accusing the Prime Minister of taking a ''walk on by on the other side approach'' to the growing international situation.

The SNP leader wrote to the Prime Minister calling on him to change his approach and also announced a special summit would be held on Friday to look at what could be done in Scotland.

Her letter reads: "I am in no doubt that we are all horrified by the scale of the refugee crisis unfolding on Europe's shore. The tragic death of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, washed up on Turkey's beach line, only serves to highlight further the plight of the thousands of people seeking safety and protection.

"The scale of such a humanitarian emergency is immense but it is not insurmountable. We recognise the need for long term, co-ordinated action to tackle the causes of this crisis but this cannot be a substitute for an immediate humanitarian response.

"We, with our neighbours and friends across the EU, have a moral obligation to offer a place of safety to these desperate people fleeing conflict and persecution. I welcomed the expansion of the Syrian Vulnerable Person scheme but I would stress that this in itself is not sufficient to address the crisis we are witnessing.

"I strongly urge you to reconsider the UK Government's current response. The Scottish Government believes we must take part in the EU response. We can start by participating in the initial EU proposals on relocation and refugee resettlement. The UK must take a proportionate share of people fleeing conflict and persecution.

"I would once again reiterate that Scotland stands ready to support the UK Government in providing an appropriate response to this situation."

The refugee summit organised by the First Minister will bring together politicians, charities, religious groups and other representatives of civic Scotland to discuss the situation and set out what Scotland can do to help.

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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