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
- 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.