Europe’s refugee crisis

Is there anything to like about the sight of Hungarian police tear-gassing babies?

If there is, I have yet to work out what, and yet here we have strong, fit young policemen punching, clubbing and manhandling women, children and old people as if they were criminals when in reality they comply with all international criteria guaranteeing their rights as refugees.  Punching, clubbing and abusing desperate civilians fleeing from war zones with their children, their weak, their sick and their elderly.

Tear-gassing babies and people in wheelchairs.

huhungary police syria refugee

This is the Hungary that we accepted into the European Union eleven years ago, and perhaps it’s the Hungary we should consider freezing back out, unless we think the cold, unfeeling values championed by Viktor Orban are the values we, as a society, believe should represent us and what we stand for.

I must confess I find it vile to think that people like Orban would take it on himself to close the  borders of the European Union on my behalf. I find it despicable that the Hungarians and the Slovakians would be talking about Christianity on my behalf. I find it more than disturbing that countries like Poland, Hungary and Slovakia would pontificate about anything on my behalf when their emigrants who live here are doing so well and finding such a welcome. I find it particularly irritating because, when I ask my Hungarian, Slovakian and Polish acquaintances about their plans for the future, not one of them has any intention of going home.

Why? Because they all know full well that the new governments of their countries post 1989 are simply the old apparatchiks still holding on to power, as apparatchiks do everywhere.

And that’s why I don’t want any lectures from apparatchiks like Viktor Orban.

It’s not as though Hungary has a great claim to moral authority since this, after all, is the country that exported 400,000 Jews to Auschwitz in 1944. And this is the country from which 200,000 people fled in 1956 as refugees to countries all over Europe, including to Ireland where many of them settled even though their reception by the authorities was far from warm.

All the more reason why a Hungarian government might understand the need for compassion towards refugees, unless that government comes from the same ideological vein that expelled its refugees in the first place, the same vein that sent all those Jews to Auschwitz, and the same outlook that found it expedient to collaborate with Stalin after the war for the sake of political survival.

It’s quite an achievement to make Serbia look tolerant but that’s what Viktor Orban’s regime has managed to achieve with its razor-wire fence and its Game of Thrones gate on the E75 motorway at Horgos.  The Serbian prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, who once said If you kill one Serb, we will kill 100 Muslims, leapt at the opportunity to be outraged by Hungary’s treatment of these refugees, most of whom — though not all — happen to be Muslim.

What are we to make of it when Aleksandar Vucic expresses horror at the border treatment of refugees by the Hungarian authorities? When a man who once played chess with the butcher of Srebrenica somehow has moral authority, you know things are bad and yet there you have it. Instead of passing through Horgos, the desperate refugees must swing West, towards Slavonia where, hardly more than twenty years ago the Yugoslav People’s Army laid waste to to the wheatfields of East Croatia. Where they demolished the  city of Vukovar until hardly a stone was left upon a stone. Where murderers like Arkan’s Tigers followed the JNA, popping grenades into the cellars where civilians cowered in fear, with the approval of people like Aleksander Vucic.

That happened less than a quarter century past, and now we have a flood of terrified people wandering into the minefields left behind by that savage internecine conflict, a war that the people of former Yugoslavia now realise should never have been allowed to happen.

Too late.

Yesterday, the Croats said they would accept the desperate refugees turned away by Orban’s border thugs. Today they fell into line and agreed the same heartless policy.

Today, the Slovenians have said they’ll accept the refugees and help them as they pass through Croatia.

Maybe they will and maybe they won’t but what will happen if the refugees can’t pass from Slovenia to Austria? Where will they go and what will they do?

This is a tragedy of biblical dimensions, largely created by European and American interests.

We can’t walk away from this.


Resolving the refugee paradox – how to feel good about saving people from certain death


a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country;  

— 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees

That is the internationally-accepted definition of a refugee. It’s not up for debate.

To be regarded as a refugee, a person’s fear of persecution must be well-founded and that persecution must be because of their

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership of a social group
  • Political opinion

This is how the world defines a refugee, and furthermore, it makes no difference how rich or how poor that refugee is.  A poor person who meets the test is a refugee and that’s an end of the matter. A refugee is not an economic migrant.

What’s an asylum seeker? Simple. An asylum seeker is somebody who claims to be a refugee, but whose case has not yet been decided by the authorities. Sadly, in Ireland, we have a lamentably poor record of deciding such cases within a reasonable time, with the result that families are incarcerated in unsuitable Direct Provision centres and children are growing up feeling wholly Irish while still living with the threat of deportation.

Now, as we know, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are all war zones where anyone could have a well-founded fear of persecution, including murder, by reason of religion, nationality, membership of a social grouping or political opinion.

As we speak, the word is that Ireland might accept as many as five thousand refugees which seems like a huge number until we remind ourselves that this is one refugee for every nine hundred of us.  It’s as if my city, Limerick, is being asked to accept an additional hundred people. Two busloads. Less than a poor turn-out for an under-age rugby match.

And let’s remind ourselves what the word “accept” means in these circumstances.  It does not mean house, feed and support all these people, since most of the Iraqis and Syrians are professionals with skills they can contribute to our local economies.

What’s more, let’s remind ourselves that these are not the bug-eyed Islamists so beloved of UKIP its fellow-travellers in Ireland. Iraq and Syria are secular societies. Let’s remember that, contrary to the ugly spin of certain quasi-Nazi parties springing up in Ireland, and contrary to the alcohol-driven opinion of certain demagogues, the last thing these people bring to us is Islamism.  Extreme religion is what they’re fleeing from and for that matter, they don’t even want to be here, since the place they came from was socially cohesive and culturally rich, despite being ruled by despotic regimes (installed, incidentally, by the West).

ISIS as we have seen, is a result of the destruction of Iraq as a state and a society by the American invasion. A secular country was transformed into a centre for Islamic fanaticism, thanks to the foreign policies of the US and Britain, and now here we have the flood of refugees from the homicidal religious madmen created by Paul Bremer’s insane decision to sack everyone involved in the Iraqi Baath Party.

The only surprise is that more people from these countries are not trying to reach Europe in search of a safe place for themselves and their families.

What is truly dispiriting about the current refugee crisis is what it has reanimated  in Irish society and I say reanimated, because ignorant xenophobic attitudes are nothing new to us here in this saintly little island.

There is one thing that Germany did, and that was to rout the Jews out of their country. Until we rout the Jews out of this country it does not matter a hair’s breadth what orders you make. Where the bees are there is the honey, and where the Jews are there is the money.

Who said that?

The speaker was 22-year-old Oliver J Flanagan, father of our current foreign minister, Charlie Flanagan, and he said it on the 9th July 1943 in our national parliament, at about the same time that the Auschwitz gas chambers became fully operational following some unfortunate technical delays.

There’s nothing new about ignorance, xenophobia or fascism in Ireland.

What is rather depressing however, is the readiness to assume that people are complete idiots, as exemplified by a  comment on a recent TV show that the reason little Aylan Kurdi’s father risked his children’s lives was because he wanted his teeth fixed in Europe. The ignorance of such a comment leaves us speechless because it’s clear that the fool who said it knows nothing of Kobane, from where Aylan’s family fled. The person who uttered this stupidity has no conception of what a Kurd is, or how the town of Kobane suffered under assault from ISIS. The idiot who said this can never comprehend what Aylan’s people suffered or for that matter how hard they struggled against the maniacs of ISIS.


In typical smug, ignorant fashion, it was easier to dismiss Aylan’s poor devastated father as just a man who wanted his teeth fixed.

Sometimes, it’s hard not to despair at the lack of basic human compassion in some people. It’s hard to know where, on the spectrum between stupidity and sheer evil, such a comment lies and perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps it’s sufficient to know that such disturbed people exist, lest we delude ourselves into believing that everyone is essentially decent.

They are not.

People will make up lies, people will promote falsehoods. People will quote non-existent research to further an agenda of hate as we saw six months ago during the marriage equality debate when some Irish people who would claim to be christians invented lies, distortions and calumnies for the sole purpose of depriving their fellow citizens of a basic human right.

And today, it’s almost as if the homophobes took off their queer-hating masks and put on their KKK hoods while repeating the same anti-human mantras of intolerance and ignorance, with our national broadcaster acquiescing.  After all, what are we to make of a supposedly professional journalist like Claire Byrne failing to challenge the most ludicrously racist statements not only by audience members but also by panellists?

Has RTE become so terrified after capitulating to the absurd threats of homophobia that it will now  chant the balance mantra for any sort of intolerant old tosh, even if that nonsense is coming from a self-important clown like Ian O’Doherty, Ireland’s less-masculine answer to Katie Hopkins?

Leaving Big Ian aside, the irrelevant old walrus, a man too stupid to know what a Nazi or a racist is, let’s look at RTE. Just as it provided balance for homophobes during the marriage equality debate, it seems RTE has decided it must provide balance for assorted racists, xenophobes and bigots, presumably on the very solid logic that racists have rights too.  That’s got to be a winning strategy. Tolerance for the intolerant. It’s always worked so far, isn’t that right?

We live in worrying times when a national broadcaster is afraid to challenge Nazis, and yet, it is still possible to feel good about doing the decent thing, despite our misgivings. It is possible to shake off our inner Nazi and realise that the people who need help are actually people.  They’re not Jihadists. They’re not religious fanatics. They’re just decent people like us, desperately searching for a safe place as we all do every day in the privacy of our inner soul.  Who doesn’t need a safe place?

But will we have to find a place for them all to live, even though we have so many homeless people in Ireland?

Several  answers to that.

First, I didn’t notice Identity Ireland campaigning for the homeless in recent times, or ever, for that matter. This is one of the richest countries in the world, and if the political will existed, there would be no need to have homeless people. We paid €34 billion to bail out the investors in Anglo and Irish Nationwide. Not the banks but the international investors who couldn’t believe their luck since they had already written off the losses.   Thirty four billion euros to bail out foreign investors and institutional lenders. That’s what we paid even though we didn’t have to.

Thirty four billion euros would pay for 113,000 houses at €300,000 each, solving our national homeless problem at a stroke but if you really want to know how much money we found to bail out the foreign investors. just read this.

We had no difficulty finding huge money for a certain class of foreigner, and I didn’t see any of our micronazis protesting against the obscenity of it but somehow we baulk at temporarily housing some refugees.

Second. Refugees are not forever.  By definition, refugees are people who come here reluctantly and want to go home.  Many of them  will go home, if and when their homeland finds peace.

Third. Most refugees from Syria and Iraq have money. They can support themselves. They can create employment. They can contribute. They can afford their own homes.

Fourth. Syrians and Iraqis are coming from a deep and rich culture, a culture that can enrich us in so many ways. They can teach us about social cohesion, about respect for our elderly, about extended family, about awareness of tradition.  These people can make us richer by knowing them.

Fifth. Direct provision is not necessarily a bad thing, provided we make sure the accommodation is of a decent standard and provided we put people with human decency in charge. It doesn’t take a genius to see that when authoritarian fools get control of any institution, there will be abuses, as we saw with Aras Attracta. Therefore, especially for single people, let us find a way to offer civilised living for refugees, free from the little tyrants who seem to thrive on their brief moment of power. That’s the way to fix Direct Provision. Show a little love.

To summarise. The real winners in this refugee crisis will be us if we’re smart about it. We’ll gain in every way. Why don’t we embrace the richness instead of succumbing to the narrow, ignorant little fears of clowns like Identity Ireland and Ian O’Doherty?

We real Irish are bigger than the intolerant fools who took over the Claire Byrne show last night.

They have no right to our identity.



Rumours corrected



Politics war

Rate My Syrian

Now that Ireland is back on its feet and the chatterati are feeling free to wander out again with their organic Dolce & Gabbana Himalayan toad-skin crystal-purses, we’re all about the sympathy. We’re much better now than we used to be in the brash years when we were exploiting au pairs. We’ve learned our lesson.

So I was thinking.

Since the current wave of Syrian refugees is predominantly middle class, why not set up a service matching refugees to hosting families?

People from certain leafy suburbs wouldn’t like to be shocked by discovering that their refugee was only a bricklayer or a taxi driver back in Damascus and you could understand that. How could they expect the children to be driven to the Gaelscoil by somebody  with no professional qualifications? There are more victims in this tragedy than just the refugees.

So here’s what I was thinking, to make sure the citizens of South Dublin don’t suffer too much from the Syrian crisis.

I was thinking we could set up a system based on social cleansing.

The Irish naval ships in the Mediterranean could apply a questionnaire to weed out refugees who are in any way working class.  I’m not suggesting that they should be sent back to Syria, but maybe they could be dropped off in Greece, or someplace with poverty.

After that, when our selected refugees arrive in Ireland, we could invite participating families to bid for their Syrian of choice.  Obviously, some families will prefer a dentist while others would prefer to have a doctor polishing their car. Families with secondary-school children might want to have a mathematics teacher while others would prefer to have a retired professor of archaeology, though obviously that would depend on how capable the professor would be of cleaning the floors and keeping the grounds generally tidy. You wouldn’t want a lazy professor hanging around the house.

I’m going to set up a website.  RateMySyrian.

It’s a win-win. If you don’t like your Syrian, you can swap him for a Syrian somebody else doesn’t want.

We can set up a secondary market in unwanted Syrians.

What could possibly go wrong?