16 Mar 2015
The crisis in Syria enters its fifth year, the UN’s refugee agency has appealed for countries do more to intervene in what it says it one of the biggest humanitarian crises in decades. So, what contribution has Ireland made to the appeal? In all, Ireland has either pledged or accepted a total of 450 Syrians seeking protection so far. They include 111 people granted permission to join family members here under a special admissions programme established earlier this year. In addition, about 90 Syrian refugees were resettled into Ireland last year, while a further 220 refugees are due to arrive in 2015 and 2016. On the face of it, this compares relatively well with some much larger countries. The UK has agreed to resettle just 90 refugees, while numbers have also been low for other European countries such as Denmark (140), Spain (130), Portugal (93). The most generous countries include Germany (30,000), Switzerland (5,200), Sweden (2,700), Norway (2,500) and Austria (1,500), according to figures provided by the UNHCR. But these resettlement figures are only part of the picture; they don’t include refugees who have received their status through the regular asylum applications process. For example, Germany has accepted a further 43,000 Syrians through its asylum regime since the conflict began. Sweden has also accepted large numbers (38,200), followed by Bulgaria (8,200), the Netherlands (6,700) and the UK (4,300). In Italy, where the arrival of asylum seekers is a growing political issue, about 975 asylum applications from Syrians have been accepted. Ireland has granted refugee status to about 80 Syrian asylum seekers since the conflict began. The UNHCR is Ireland has made positive noises about Ireland’s overall contribution so far and some Syrians have spoken movingly at having a chance to re-build their lives here. But the agency has called on Irish authorities to examine all available avenues to allow more to re-settle here. It says, for example, that while 111 Syrians were accepted under a special Syrian humanitarian admission programme, almost three times that number applied to be included. Other initiatives, it says, might include study visas or the issuance of work permits. The UNHCR says it is in contact with Irish universities to look at ways in which Syrian students may be offered access to courses here.