Affirming Ireland’s commitment to uniting all its people
2017-02-15 7:50:17 -
Editorial
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10951
Emily Logan

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) is Ireland’s national human rights and equality institution. It is an independent public body that accounts to the Oireachtas, with a legal mandate to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The work of my colleagues and I, as chief commissioner, is determined independently by the 15 members of the commission, who were appointed by President Michael D Higgins in 2014.

Part of the commission’s work, as set out in our founding legislation, is to “encourage good practice in intercultural relations, to promote tolerance and acceptance of diversity in the State and respect for the freedom and dignity of each person.”

With this focus, the IHREC hosted a high-level international event on 1 February, specifically on Ireland’s response to the global refugee and migration crisis.

Addressed by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald; Ireland’s ambassador to the UN, David Donoghue; Greece’s children’s rights ombudsman George Moschos; plus refugee and migrants rights organisations, as well as people who shared their own lived experiences, the event focused on Ireland’s international protection system. At the forefront of discussions were the position of children on the move, and the re-unification of families here in Ireland.

The UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, estimates that children make up 52 per cent of all Syrian refugees. On top of this, at least 10,000 unaccompanied children have disappeared in Europe since arriving from conflict regions such as Syria, according to Europol.
The phenomenon of ‘missing migrant children’ is not new. However, the practical challenges posed by increasing numbers of refugee and migrant children in Europe has brought state responses into sharp focus.

Ireland has shown leadership in the treatment and care of separated children – with significant reforms dating back to 2009 to ensure better protection. These reforms are now cited by the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking as international best practice. But continued moral leadership is further required from Ireland.

Most of the provisions of Ireland’s International Protection Act commenced on the 31 December 2016. The expressed aim of this legislation is to introduce a ‘single procedure’ in which applications for refugee status and for subsidiary protection will be considered in one application.

The IHREC welcomed the introduction of this streamlined procedure, but has raised directly with Government the fact that under the new act, the eligibility of families is restricted to certain family members: spouses, civil partners and children; or where the applicant is under 18 years of age, their parents and siblings under 18 who are unmarried. No other family members will be eligible for family reunification.

This eligibility remains a particular area of concern, likely to cause considerable hardship to refugee families. At the commission we will continue to seek reform to cover a full range of family relationships.

Furthermore, the IHREC has made a call for the State to act further to:

- Assume a leadership role as a voice for the rights of child refugees, through the promotion at EU level of enhanced measures for the protection of migrant and refugee children.

- Strengthen and expand its family reunification policies, to facilitate safe and legal pathways for family members of refugee communities here in Ireland.

- Monitor the newly established single protection procedure, and ensure that the resources necessary to ensure fairness in the protection process, are provided.

- Ensure that Ireland is a strong voice for human rights of refugees at a European and global level.

- In the face of threats to resettlement programmes, commit to expanding our resettlement commitments, and going beyond search and rescue of those in distress, to ensuring safe passage to a secure status in Ireland.

The Irish Constitution, in Article 3, affirms our commitment in this area by stating that it is the will of the nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities. We must now extend the spirit of this commitment to those fleeing persecution and newly arriving in Ireland.

Emily Logan is chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.
TAGS : Emily Logan Affirming Ireland Commitment The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission President Michael D Higgins
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