Refugees: The Resettlement Option

We have all been rightly horrified at the plight of refugees who are faced to confront the dangers of the sea in their journeys to Europe. These journeys are undertaken not only at great personal risk, the refugees who find themselves in this precarious predicament are victims of an exploitative multi-billion dollar trafficking industry.

After World War II thousands of displaced people within Europe are facilitated in finding a new home elsewhere in Europe or even in the United States. Some were assisted in relocating in countries as diverse as Ireland and Israel.

Resettlement involves the sponsoring of refugees and the provision of protection and the possibility of beginning a new life in another country. For many refugees, returning home ie not an option. As Somali refugee Warsaw Shire said in her now famous poem, No One Leaves Home, “you only run for the border when the whole city runs as well.” There is no going back. That is the situation in which many find themselves.

European Response

In 2015, as Europe confronted its migration crisis with thousands pouring over borders heading for Germany and Sweden, the Council of Europe sought to enter into agreements with European countries to establish a resettlement option for refugees. This would mean that vulnerable people seeking asylum in a European country could do so without risking their lives. Under the 1951 Geneva Convention on the right to asylum, a person at risk can seek asylum in another country. Europe never envisaged the combination of factors which would lead to the current tidal wave of migrant flows. It is now time to put in place a structured policy for resettlement.

The European Union has ac very promoted refugee rest element over the past ten years, including rest element as an essential part of the external dimension of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). Coordination and resourcing of European resettlement has been further strengthened by the 2013 establishment of the Joint EU Resettlement Programme.

Fourteen countries, including Ireland and the United Kingdom, have signed up to the resettlement policy. This is involves a commitment to the provision of resettlement place. At the moment this number is so small as to be almost derisory. Why is this? It is partly because states have not begun to reflect on the benefits of such a policy and how it might be implemented. It remains still as a ‘nice to have’ option. But it is not taken seriously.

International Catholic Commission for Migration

Enter the NGO sector. The International Catholic Commission for Migration (ICMC) has taken resettlement seriously. Working with partners in a number of European countries, it has begun to establish a viable option for resettlement of refugees.

ICMC has established a project called the SHARE Network. This project calls for a network of European cities willing to offer resettlement places to migrants.ICMC is advocating for the provision annually of 20,000 resettlement places across Europe. Currently, some 7000 people have been resettled by ICMC through this scheme. Obviously there is room for further development of this initiative across Europe. Given the need, there is an urgent need for an expansion of the programme.

A feature of the SHARE European Resettlement Network is that it is focused on local civil society organisations, including municipalities and local NGOs. Local communities can engage with this programme to offer resettlement places.

In Ireland St Catherine’s Community Services Centre in Carlow is a partner with ICMC in resettling refugees. The Centre has worked with State agencies to ensure the provision of services for incoming families:

Our Resettlement Committee ensured that ‘arrival plans’ for the families were put in place before the families arrived. We have met every six weeks since then to oversee the development of the programme. At each committee meeting, the resettlement worker updates us on the work that has taken place. The meetings also provide a forum to discuss important matters such as mainstreaming, education and health and then to agree a co-ordinated response to any issues.

Carlow has successfully integrated members of the vulnerable Myanmar Rohingya community whose lives are often in danger in their own country. The 13 families accepted by Carlow has been living in refugee camps in Bangladesh since 1992.

If only this programme could be expanded on a European basis linking municipalities and communities in a common humanitarian effort.


Young People Advocacy Campaign

It is simply amazing what young people can do once they are mobilised and inspired.

Some weeks ago I attended a meeting in Mount Sion, Waterford, where young people from the Abbey Community College, Ardscoil na Mara, Carlow CBS and Midleton CBS gathered to launch a school-based campaign to address the issue of homelessness in Ireland. They linked with the One Campaign to initiate a national movement of young people that will culminate in a petition being submitted very shortly to the Government (assuming we have one by then!).

What has been so interesting to observe is how the young people from various schools were able to come together to leverage the power of social media to spread their message. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are their natural environments. Young people today are hardwired almost from birth to use these platforms.

What was unexpected – for me at leas – is to see how these young people have been able to go beyond the ‘OMG isn’t this horrible’ reaction to an articulate analysis of the issues. I had some sense of this when I heard a few of them speak at the event I attended. It has been nothing short of astonishing to see how they have been able to translate their research into clear analysis and persuasive messaging.

Our future is in good hands! Well done young people of Ireland!

The Cost of Migration

In the middle of the current migration crisis confronting Europe it is difficult to reflect objectively and dispassionately on what it is happening. We know something about the reasons why so many from the Middle East and from Africa are seeking a new life in the West, particularly in Europe. Very often, as we know, those who undertake arduous, life-threatening, journeys are among the best and the bravest. Some are well-educated by local standards. A small minority have educational qualifications that rival those of many Europeans.

One aspect of migration that has occurred to me in recent times is the cost to the country of origin when migrants depart for Europe. In Ireland we are more than aware of the ‘brain-drain’ when our highly-educated young people leave to take up employment in the United States, Australia, Britain or mainland Europe. There is the cost arising from a lost education investment. Even greater is the potential loss arising from the contribution that the departing person could have made to the local economy. Ultimately, in a European context, it is believed that the direct cost arising from the lost investment and potential is more than compensated for by the benefits arising from the free movement of labour. The highly-educated German who takes up a job in Ireland and decides to stay will, over time, compensate for the loss of the young Irish person who departs.

However, this balance sheet approach masks several greater losses. There is an immediate emotional cost in terms of the dispersion of a family and the weakening of family ties. This loss is real and permanent, no matter how effective FaceTime and Skype may be in maintaining communication. Another immeasurable and equally severe cost is the impact on local communities when young people leave in large numbers. Sometimes this cost arises from internal migration within the country as young people leave rural areas to take up employment in the cities.

But to return to Africa and some data.

What is the cost to Africa of the loss of its departing migrant population? The World Bank estimates that 70,000 of Africa’s most qualified people leave each year and the continent spends $4bn to replace them with expatriate workers. It would seem that this estimate has to be on the low side since it clearly represents the cost of replacing ‘qualified’ people whose replacement can be measured by reference to local education provision costs. The actual cost to Africa when the vastly greater numbers of ‘unqualified’ people are taken into account is probably significantly greater and incalculable.

Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo has reportedly said that food production in Nigeria was falling because so many farmers were fleeing the fields for the West. The current food shortages in Nigeria is, in part, due to this phenomenon. It is also assuredly the case that drought and environmental damage in the delta areas are having an even more severe impact on food production. Nonetheless, the of loss rural populations in agricultural areas, whether due to drought or migration, undermines sustainable food production in the long run and contributes to food insecurity.

A more positive assessment of migration would place an emphasis on the financial value of migrant remittances to the home economies. This is a well-known positive aspect of international migration. Many. countries rely heavily on remittances from citizens living abroad, The Philippines and Bangladesh would be relevant examples. Worldwide, migrants in the West sent back $72.3bn to poor countries in 2001. Informal money transfers probably count for two or three times more.

In Africa Senegal earns 2% of its national income from remittances, Nigeria 4% and other countries even more.

Jean-Philippe Chauzy from the International Organization of Migration says it is very difficult to say whether the benefits of the remittances outweigh the problems caused by the departure of so many people. In the overall context of migration it would be well for international agencies, donors, and governments to reflect on the cost factors involved in migration.,/p>

Would enhanced social investment, fairer trade conditions, more collaborative approaches, and a positive engagement with the Global South be more cost effective formal in the long run? At the end of the day no migrant willingly leaves home.

Angela Merkel

In the early months of 2015 the situation of migrants and refugees seeking to enter Europe by land and sea had become increasingly precarious. Since the abandonment of the EU Mare Nostrum programme in 2014, a programme which the Italian Navy believed had saved over 120, 000 lives, the number of people drowning in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea was increasing week on week. In May 2015, in response to public opinion, the Irish Naval Service became involved in a new EU initiative to rescue migrants and refugees, mainly those travelling from the Libyan coastal route. Later, it became evident that even larger numbers were seeking to enter Europe by way of the short sea route from Turkey. In total, 137,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean into Europe in the first six months of 2015.Throughout the Summer months this mass-migration of people had become a major issue for European public opinion.

Death of Aylan Kurdi

The death of the Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi, whose body was found on a beach at Bodrum, Turkey, following the capsizing of their boat on September 2nd, 2015, shocked public opinion across Europe. From that point on the plight of migrants and refugees seeking a new life in Europe became a major issue for public opinion, leading eventually to pressure on governments to participate in measures to alleviate the situation, including the free-flow of migrants to their desired destination. This mean, in practice, the virtual abandonment of the Dublin regulations applying to asylum seekers.

Angela Merkel, a Courageous Woman

As the nightly news broadcasts focused on the thousands massed on the borders of Macedonia, Hungary, Austria and Slovenia, there was a dramatic intervention from Germany, the preferred destination for the majority of the migrants and refugees.
Angela Merkel in a speech to the Bundestag on September 24th, 2015 spoke in favour of welcoming refugees to Germany in large numbers.

What was particularly influential in the Merkel speech was her enlarging of the issue beyond the Syrian crisis to the wider global context:

Speech to the Bundestag

At the moment almost 60 million refugees can be counted around the globe – this figure alone clearly illustrates the fact that we are not facing a German challenge, nor a European challenge, but a global challenge, that every region, every country, every political level, and every institution will have to help to resolve

When we speak of the ‘current refugee crisis’, it is this new and unprecedented mass migration of people that we have in mind. While at the moment our focus is on refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and the Middle East, the ‘old crisis’ of African migration to Europe will continue with ever larger numbers seeking access to a better life elsewhere.

Angela Merkel is one of those rare politicians, one who is prepared to take a principled position, even at the risk of the position being unpopular. She richly deserves to be Time magazine’s Person of the Year. We learn from her the difference between being a person of character whose moral judgments are based on principles rather than on a calculation on the basis of ‘what can I get away with her’. Angela Merkel has a deep sense of her own vocation to public life and to the promotion of the common good. As the daughter of a Lutheran pastor and someone who knew the emptiness of materialistic socialism, she has allowed her deep Christian convictions to inform her public actions.

On a related note, the TIME magazine cover shows a painting of Angela Merkel by Irish artist Colin Davidson from Northern Ireland. The story of the painting makes for interesting reading. See it here.

We can learn a lot from her.

Human Rights and Extreme Poverty

Emily Logan, CEO Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission speaking at the launch of the ATD/FI Human Rights and Extreme Poverty Handbook in Dublin
Emily Logan, CEO Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission speaking at the launch of the ATD/FI Human Rights and Extreme Poverty Handbook in Dublin

For many the area around Mountjoy Square, Dublin 1 is unfamiliar territory. In its day it was once of the premier locations in Dublin city, the discrete 18th century urban setting for Ireland’s rural elite who came to the city to participate in the social rounds of what was called ‘the season’. Today, it is an area that has seen better days. There are the offices of organisations who can’t afford to be anywhere else. There are the flats where Irelands newcomers can find a home if they are lucky. It is also the location of Ozanam House where Saint Vincent De Paul have been working with poor people for over a hundred years. There are photographs from of Daughters of Charity passing out shoes from its steps to the poor people of the area.

A Different Kind of Book Launch

On December 8th, Ozanam House was the location for the launch of a handbook, Making Human Rights Work for People living in Extreme Poverty, the work of collaboration between [ATD Fourth World] and Franciscans International. The project was assisted by other organisations, including the Christian Brothers and Edmund Rice International.

The location was colourful and welcoming. There were simple hand-crafted murals and posters. The amplification system creaked and the chairs were uncomfortable. For sure, this was not the kind of book launch that the corporate world could ever endorse: wrong location, wrong people, absence of media, and, well, not likely to make the Nine O’Clock News. And, on top of that, we were expected to engage in a World Café process about engagement with poor people. Media hacks would be heading for the door!

Poor People can claim their Human Rights too

The people who came were the volunteer workers whose lives are committed on a daily basis to being with poor people, the grassroots organisations, the newcomers and the poor people themselves. They came to support one of the very first unambiguous engagement of the human rights community with poor people. Too often, human rights can be the territory of the powerful: the states, the NGOS, the academics, the human rights lawyers, and sometimes, the ideologues.

It was encouraging to hear in a human rights setting the language of respectful inclusion, the admission of failure and the openness to doing things differently. Because that is what the launch of this new handbook was about. It was an event that listened to Brother Rodrigo Peret when he said on the launch video: “Human rights we don’t claim on our knees!”

If there was one message that embedded itself in our consciousness from the presentations of the panelists it was that poverty, especially extreme poverty, is a profound violation of human rights. That is new language and deeply subversive of the understanding of human rights among western liberal elites. It is the voice of poor people saying “Human rights is not just for you; we are claiming this space for ourselves as well.”

It is Time to Listen and Hear

Emily Logan, CEO of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, was very positive in her comments on the ATD/FI Handbook. She acknowledged that human rights language is often viewed as the property of the establishment, academic and legal. It is time for poor people to reclaim this language as their own.

Sometimes, as Bruno from ATD said, we tend to see see poor people ‘as too complicated to work with’. This perception gets passed on in the media DNA shaping a negative public perception of poor people. From this ‘poison’, as he called it, evolve a host of toxic myths that shape attitudes and beliefs. It is time for human rights to really engage with poor communities and to listen to poor people with respect.

The Challenge

Making Human Rights Work for People in Extreme Poverty is one of those rare books, at once practical, inspirational and challenging. It challenges all of us. To those of us who say, ‘the poor are too complicated’, it forces us to think again. To those who say all they need is love, it forces us to engage with poor people in ways that enable them to say, “We can do this ourselves.” To those who say that poverty is a fact of life, it confronts us with a clear statement that poverty is a violation of human rights. To those who say we are powerless to do anything, the handbook challenges us to think about simple, practical steps that can be taken.

For me, it is the voice of Brother Rodrigo OFM from Brazil that rings in my ears. In his heavily accented English, with the gaping holes in the brickwork of his dilapidated barrio dwelling in the background, he calls out to us: “We are not invisible. We, too, belong to the city.”

Let’s make human rights work for Rodrigo and all poor people.

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Celebrating 70 Years of Crosscare

This week the Dublin Archdiocese celebrated 70 years of caring for people in Dublin city at a conference organised by Crosscare. Over 200 people gathered together in All Hallows College for the event which President Higgins attended. In 1941 the A…


This week the Dublin Archdiocese celebrated 70 years of caring for people in Dublin city at a conference organised by Crosscare. Over 200 people gathered together in All Hallows College for the event which President Higgins attended. In 1941 the Archdiocese established Catholic Social Services to provide food and shelter for vulnerable people during the war years. The State at that time was unable to respond social needs in the way that it can today. So, it was up to the voluntary sector to step into the breech.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, in his address, recalled this context when he pointed out that voluntary service is a fundamental value of civic consciousness. It is not just something that is required when the State cannot provide services. It is not about plugging the gaps when the public sector fails. This position is not a million miles away from David Cameron’s Big Society concept. Although, I half suspect that David Cameron was dangerously veering towards the ‘plugging the gaps’ concept. Nonethless, the Archbishop’s point is a valid and essential one to make, the voluntary sector has its place and value in society.

Quoting Brother Kevin from the Church Street services, Archbishop Martin reminded us that “the poor deserve the best”. In responding to the needs of the poor we should not settle for low material standards. Rather, he said, if we are providing shelter for homeless people, the quality of the building and the furnishings should be such that any one of us would feel comfortable living in that environment. Some of the hostels recently established by Crosscare in the city of Dublin certainly adhere to this worthy principle. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the emergency shelters provided by the City Council and the accommodation offered by some private suppliers.

In his own remarks President Higgins, himself a former sociology lecturer, reminded us that pragmatic responses to needs often founder in one important respect. They often neglect to ensure sustainable future responses by failing to impact on social policy. As he said, the State needs to be challenged by the voluntary sector. It is a feature of the functioning of the contemporary voluntary sector that policy issues are at the heart of what they do today.

The forthcoming CORI/IMU conference, “In the Light of the Gospel”, to take place on March 9th is an example of this policy-oriented and rights-based grounded approach in action.