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WATCH: Sharon Keogan explains difference between a refugee and an economic migrant

An Independent Senator has said that Ireland does not have the same obligations to economic migrants as to refugees, saying the country does not have the same duty in terms of provision and protection to those who are not asylum seekers.

Senator Sharon Keogan said that “some of those on the left wing seem to believe that once somebody applies for asylum they are entitled to it, that all persons applying for international protection do so genuinely and that any hesitation on the part of the State to grant them full access and benefits is xenophobic.”

“This is nonsense,” she said. “No country has a duty to accept all asylum seekers who present at its borders. We have a duty to examine applications, appraise them fairly and separate the genuine applicants from the others.”

The Independent Senator said the question as to what constituted a genuine applicant needed to be asked.

“When I use the word “genuine”, I do not do so in the strict or official sense. The Department of Justice has a litany of tests which are used in the examination of applications and I will not go into those. I mean to ask what a genuine asylum seeker is in the mind of the public. We might think of someone fleeing war, famine or persecution, someone who has removed themselves or their family from immediate danger or someone who would die, be killed or suffer extreme hardship were they to return. This is generally what the public views as a genuine asylum seeker,” she said.

“However, not all asylum seekers come to our shores fleeing such circumstances. Some come from merely poor countries, in the knowledge that they have a better chance of earning more money and enjoying a higher standard of living in Ireland than they do in their home countries. While these people are technically asylum seekers, they are better described as economic migrants,” she said.

“They have moved to this country to improve their economic prospects, nothing more and nothing less. Most sane people are of the opinion that our duty to these people is lower than the duty we have towards persons fleeing war and persecution. I am one of these people. While I admire the gumption and attitude of self-preservation of those who uproot and move country to better their lot in life, we simply do not owe economic migrants the same level of provision and protection as we do other cohorts of people in need of such.”

Sentaor Keogan said: “there are no wars or other human rights emergencies to justify the fact that more than one third of asylum seekers are from states such as Nigeria, Georgia, Algeria and South Africa. Why is this relevant? It is relevant because, in a shocking revelation, the State has limited resources. Each bed, apartment and house occupied by an economic migrant is one that cannot be given to a genuine asylum seeker or Ukrainian.”

“When we are expecting the highest number of people seeking international protection in more than 20 years, this becomes a problem. In January, another 1,300 people turned up on our borders claiming international protection. The Government’s approach is unsustainable. Of course, most of the accommodation is not being occupied by the 19,000 living in IPAS properties but by the more than 70,000 beneficiaries of temporary protection.”

“These are crazy numbers. This is a small country with a small population but the public transport and civil infrastructure is unable to serve that population. There are not enough houses or apartments to serve the population. In what world did the Government think it would add the guts of 100,000 people into the mix in a year and a half and not cause a crisis? I said early on that, due to resources and logistics, we are limited in our ability to adequately care for the people we take in and, as we take more in, that ability is stretched to breaking.”

The Meath Senator said that she had “worked very hard” since March last year in her  local community where she had been “personally involved in the cases of perhaps 900 people who have come to east Meath. I know at first hand the difficulties the Minister is dealing with”.

She added that “accommodation for international protection applicants is not rocket science.”

“There are only two variables. If there is a problem, you either build more accommodation or ensure there are fewer international protection applicants via tougher screening, expedited and stricter processing for applicants from safer countries, automatic rejection for those who destroy identification in-flight and the enforcement of deportation orders. The Government has put itself in a very sticky situation but, although it can and will say much more, it cannot say it was not warned.”

She also said that change was needed in terms of housing in the country.

“We need to boost our large development plans and defend them against scuppering by opposition and complaints to An Bord Pleanála. We need to allow people to build on land they own. We need to offer grants for the conversion of existing houses into duplexes and for the building of additional family units in large gardens. We need to examine the local use only rule and allow young people to move out of the capital city and build and live in other counties, bringing their skills and money to local communities,” she said.

Speaking to the issue, Senator Eileen Flynn said: “We are talking about accommodation. Refugees and other migrants are living in horrible accommodation. I could use worse words. We have to understand that, when talking about housing the Irish and all that oul’ jazz that is coming out of people’s mouths just to spread oul’ propaganda, hate and lies and to divide our communities, we are not giving refugees houses; we are putting them into hotels.”

“We do have a two-tier system where we have some refugees classed as European up here, and then black and brown refugees down there who are fleeing and seeking international protection. I know what it is like to be an other within society and to be treated less than white settled people. Why are we part of that? We need leadership.”


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