With the Green Party ready and waiting to help form the next government, KATE BRAYDEN has been closely examining their vision for an Ireland free of marginalisation – and grilling their politicians on policy relating to open borders, Direct Provision and refugees.
The 2020 General Election has seen a predictable emphasis on domestic policies — particularly on housing and health — with foreign policy firmly taking a back seat.
And considering the ever-increasing climate crisis, there will be an undeniable rise in the number of refugees in Ireland, as well as asylum seekers and migrants.
According to the UNHCR, refugees – protected by the 1951 Refugee Convention – are people fleeing persecution and armed conflict.
By the end of 2014, there were 19.5 million refugees worldwide, seeking to escape perilous circumstances by crossing borders to seek safety.
An asylum seeker is someone seeking international protection (refugee status) – but whose application has yet been approved or rejected. They seek asylum on the basis that returning to their country of origin would lead to persecution on account of race, religion, nationality or political beliefs.
Unfortunately, international law is still catching up to the impact of climate breakdown on refugee applications. A displaced person must go through a Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process, conducted by the government of the country of asylum or the UNHCR.
On the other hand, migrants choose to move mainly to improve their lives, rather than because of a direct threat or persecution.
While migrants can return safely home, refugees are not safe to do so.
In 2019, 4,487 people applied for international protection in this country; an increase of 814 on the previous year.
From my own close examination of the Green Party’s manifesto for General Election 2020, their foreign affairs policies suggest a strong commitment to playing a role on the international stage – both when it comes to the climate crisis and the resulting increase in refugee applications.
The Greens are firmly of the view that global co-operation and co-ordination will be needed to address the challenges that lie ahead.
European Union policy and practice must prioritise the rights of the vulnerable over the interests of multinational companies, they feel.
The movement of people has become increasingly restricted with some countries appearing to adopt a “Fortress Europe” mindset by closing borders, preventing search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean by NGOs and stoking fears through far-right rhetoric of “The Other”.
Speaking to The City.ie, Dublin West Green party councillor Daniel Whooley said Ireland is failing to take in its “fair share” of refugees at present.
The young politician also feels that our own ‘troubled history’ with famine and emigration should push us to “help those in need” even more.
“The UN Refugee Agency has estimated that 1.44 million people globally will need to resettle by 2020.”
When compared with other countries, you might be forgiven for thinking that Ireland appears to take a somewhat hardline stance on asylum seekers.
In 2015, the number of asylum applications allowed by the Irish authorities was 20 times less than in Norway – a country with an almost identical population to ours but significantly wealthier.
Whooley said that “reflects a slow system of dealing with asylum backlogs, as well as a tendency to reject applications more often than we accept them.”
Pointing out 17% of Irish citizens live abroad, the politician added: “It’s only fair that we take up the mantle that many nations did for our ancestors during our troubled history and help those in need.”
In terms of foreign policy, the Green Party manifesto asserts ‘that the need for world peace and justice overrides national and commercial interests.’
“There is no place for violence – or threat of violence – in the democratic political process,” they say.
The party is also calling for – among other international development proposals – immediate recognition of the State of Palestine, an end to arms trading with Israel and an end to the blockade and closure of Gaza.
The party proposes to increase Ireland’s Overseas Development Aid contribution to 0.7% of Gross National Income by 2025.
Aid directed towards the ongoing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean should be co-ordinated with the EU – with funding for refugee housing a priority, they suggest.
The Green Party’s manifesto outlines their vision for an Ireland free of marginalisation.
It stresses how we’ve benefited from increased cultural, social and political diversity through the arrival of a new generation of migrants.
To achieve their goal, the Greens hope to develop a new Migrant Integration Strategy and revive the National Action Plan Against Racism – which expired in 2008.
Green Party chairperson Hazel Chu told TheCity.ie: “The problem with anti-refugee stances and anti-immigration rhetoric is that people are going for what the populist vote would be, which is to blame it on someone else.
“If you have more refugees coming in, people will say those are the ones who are burdening us.
“Right now, people are claiming there is mass immigration in Ireland when there’s not.”
Nasc CEO Fiona Finn said her organisation is disappointed by Fine Gael’s plan – announced in recent weeks – to home a mere 2,900 refugees here over the next four years.
She told TheCity.ie: “The 2,900 promised places over the next four years represents a reduction on Ireland’s previous resettlement commitments.
“Only 7% of the resettlement places needed globally are available.
“Now is the time for progressive and ambitious programmes to meet those needs.
“We hope to work with whoever is in government next, to push for expanded resettlement quotas and new solutions.”
Meanwhile, the Greens want to work towards ending Direct Provision and replacing it with a not-for-profit system based on accommodation provided through existing or new approved housing bodies.
The stated vision of the Greens embraces the responsibility of the Irish Government to step up to the plate in the realm of foreign affairs and climate refugees – who are still not protected by international law.
A landmark United Nations ruling that governments cannot return people to countries where their lives are threatened by climate change is a momentous first step for global climate action. But it’s not yet legally binding.
Refugees do not travel in search of economic opportunity but to escape war, persecution, death, torture and rape. They are entitled to the protection and assistance of other states under international law, and under shared principles of human decency.”
UN High Commissioner for Refugees