Opinion: Solidarity with refugees is no longer enough
2015-10-01 15:48:23 -
World News

Ronit Lentin


The responses to what is being dubbed as Europe’s ‘worst refugee crisis’ since the Second World War have been overwhelming, perplexing and at times contradictory. As millions of refugees pour out of Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and elsewhere towards the fences, walls and shores of the Fortress Europe ghetto, Europeans have mobilised in their hundreds of thousands. The outpouring of empathy and solidarity by ordinary people throughout Europe has been a turning point in the bottom-up response to the plight of so many people fleeing western-sponsored wars, state oppression and deprivation. At the same time, the politics of fear and Islamophobia is also rearing its ugly head, as people complain against Europe letting in Muslim people who, they say, will damage so-called ‘European civilisation’.


While the Hungarian authorities, aided by Israeli anti-refugee technologies, are erecting fences, ordinary Europeans – Hungarians, Austrians, Germans, Greeks, Czechs – and many foreign volunteers are assisting refugees not only with food, clothes and blankets, but also with train tickets to freedom. Ordinary Germans are responding to their government’s announcement that it will take in 800,000 refugees, even though Chancellor Merkel said this will change the nature of German society, by offering homes to refugees – some of whom, ironically, have been housed in former concentration camps. Meanwhile in the UK, led by the newly elected British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, many have also taken to the streets in rallies of solidarity.


But what does all this mean? In promising to take in some 4,000 refugees, will Ireland also end the deplorable direct provision system and give all asylum seekers already in the system refugee status? Or will the system prevail and deportations continue apace? Will incoming refugees be invited as ‘programme refugees’ and offered residency rights and citizenship like those before them – including Vietnamese, Bahai’s, Bosnians, Kosovars and even Hungarians (most of whom left Ireland in protest against their dire conditions)? Or will they be housed in the inadequate direct provision centres, poorly managed by for-profit companies, and forced to live on bed and board and the miserable ‘comfort allowance’ of €19.10 per adult per week?


The sympathy and solidarity displayed over the past few weeks might be short-lived, and all the while asylum seekers continue to languish in direct provision centres as the Minister of State at the Department of Justice uses the excuse of having to implement the recommendations of the working group on direct provision, which the Government had already all but said it would not honour, for not making any firm decisions as to the numbers and status of the refugees to be taken in. At the same time, calls to ‘look after our own’ homeless and poor are being used as an excuse for not building an adequate political response to the refugee crisis.


Solidarity that does not take into account the lived experiences of refugees who are racialised as undeserving ‘economic migrants’ is simply no longer enough. The challenge facing anti-racism activists and refugee support groups now is how to turn the outpouring of solidarity and empathy into a positive political response and take in significant numbers of people who, as we all know, will change Ireland with their courage, determination and enterprise, just as Irish emigrants – desperate, courageous and enterprising – have changed the countries they moved to for the better.



Ronit Lentin is a retired associate professor of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. Her column appears regularly in Metro Éireann

TAGS : Syria Refugee Crisis Hungary
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