All EU countries need to do more, says UN High Commissioner for Refugees representative

Jedidja Stael speaks to Jody Clarke from The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) about Ireland and Europe’s response to the ongoing refugee crisis.


Jody Clarke is an External Relations Associate from the UNHCR’s Dublin office. He notes that under a recent resettlement scheme, the EU allocated 40,000 refugees to certain European countries. How many each should take is calculated using measures such population size and employment rates. However, because Ireland (as well as the UK and Denmark) does not fully participate in Home and Justice affairs in the EU, it did not have to opt into the resettlement scheme. “But Ireland did,” Clarke confirms.

The total number of refugees Ireland has agreed to take now stands at 4,000. Responding to this announcement, Clarke said: “We welcome the decision of the Irish government to admit 4,000 people under the resettlement and relocation programmes. However, clearly there is a need for all countries to do more. First of all, we need to show solidarity with fellow EU member states who are receiving the vast majority of refugees and migrants by relocating those people to other parts of the EU. Secondly, we need to increase support for the countries where the vast majority of refugees have sought asylum. The UN’s total appeal in 2015 for Syrian refugees is $4.5 billion. However, just $1.6 billion (37%) has been received to date. Less than 10% of Syrian refugees have come to Europe, underlining how manageable the situation should be.”

Germany’s heroism gets mentioned frequently in the press, especially in comparison with other countries. It is true they are willingly taking more refugees than any other EU country, yet Clarke believes Germany is in a different position to Ireland. “Ireland does not have refugees on their doorstep as Germany has. Therefore, the government does not have to take immediate measures with refugees like Germany has to.” However, he is keen to stress this does not mean Ireland and other countries shouldn’t take part in addressing the crisis. “What is happening now is unsustainable. In Greece only this week 24,000 people arrived, which is the size of Kilkenny city. It is quite clear that they are in need of protection that we should give them.”

Accepting refugees is not the only action a country might take to display its commitment to a coordinated and international response. Another is naval rescue missions, though some criticise Ireland for focusing too much on this approach, at the neglect of the long term needs of refugees. Clarke, however, sees the rescue missions as vital. “It is the biggest overseas naval operation that Ireland has ever taken part in.” He goes on to say that taking in more refugees is the next step for both Ireland and the EU: “After a rescue mission, one shouldn’t hide from the responsibilities. To prevent the deaths of refugees, there is a need for rescue operations, yet it is not the only solution. You need to find safe resettlement.”

With this in mind, The UNHCR and the Irish government also focus on how to give refugees a good quality of life. Clarke explains that after arriving, refugees stay in camps for the first months in order to get them settled. After that they will be provided with housing, and allowed to apply for student and work visas. A number of people have expressed a worry that incoming refugees will exacerbate a controversial direct provision system. However, responding to this point, Clarke stated: “Refugees have the same entitlements to work and access to healthcare as Irish citizens.”

In the long run, just as with previous refugees and immigrants there is the difficult process of integration. Clarke explains that while local authorities do a lot with helping with the process of integration, there seemed to have been a general lack of strategy in Ireland, not just for refugees but with immigrants too. It is promised, however, that the Irish government will present a strategy plan this year. “Yet, it is not just up to the government, it is up to the people as well,” Clarke says. “Integration is a two way street. There is need for both refugees and the Irish people to help the integration process.” Clarke further mentions that besides donations of money and goods, welcome and support for the refugees coming into Ireland is also important.

The UNHCR has huge operations on the ground and coordinates with various governments and the EU to limit the severity of the situation. “The problem, though, is that the UNHCR is at the moment only 41% funded. It means that there have been many cuts, such in food aid. More and more refugees, in particular Syrian refugees, in Lebanon and similar countries, are living below the poverty line. There are not enough resources to take care of them. This partly leads to the movement of refugees to Europe,” Clarke says. The Irish government does help with some of the funding and there are also private fundraising campaigns, however there is still a need for more money if the UNHCR and its partners can fulfil the task required of them.

“The recent escalation of wars and internal conflicts have caused the biggest displacement since the 1940s: 16 million people. The humanitarian system cannot cope anymore and so we are now at a point that we cannot find solutions for all these people. There is therefore a need for worldwide action,” Clarke says. He continues by saying that in the past the world could rely on world powers such as the USA and the USSR to help solve global problems. Now that has changed. There is a need for a rethink on the direction of the wider humanitarian mission, but also for protecting humanitarian workers who are now becoming targets in war zones. It becomes clear that people, the EU, and other countries have to work together.

Clarke concludes: “While UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees, our ultimate goal is to help find durable solutions that will allow them to rebuild their lives in dignity and peace.”