Europe, along with what we often term the ‘civlised’ world, has been taken aback in the past few weeks at footage of the mass movement of Syrians into the continent, almost entirely predicted by the ongoing war in their country.
And it’s welcome that our Government has committed to taking in more of these unfortunate people, who have been driven from their homes in the wake of a war that’s entering its fifth year, with an estimated 200,000 fatalities thus far.
That moves have been made to organise integration for Syrians in Tramore, a story we broke several weeks ago, is welcome.
The input of the ‘New Irish’ has proven positive, as has predominantly been the case with respect to our own Diaspora, widely flung as it has been across the globe since the 1700s.
Over 20 years ago, Waterford hosted refugees from Bosnian and Kosovo, who escaped the bloodshed of the Third Balkan War. They were housed in the former Ursuline Boarding School (which later became a hostel) – most returned home when the guns fell silent but some opted to settle here.
While the former Yugoslav republics recovered relatively quickly, this is unlikely to prove the case in Syria. Those coming to Ireland and Europe are likely to stay here for quite some time, and many may never return home.
The lead in this crisis from a European perspective has been taken by Germany, which has committed to taking in over 800,000 refugees.
No less than two million ethnic Germans, lest we forget, had to move from Prussia (now part of modern day Poland and the Czech Republic) into what was then West Germany as the European map was redrawn in the wake of World War II.
Combined, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq have taken in over four million refugees from Syria.
The cash-rich Emirate states, along with China, the USA and Canada, ought to be doing more. Ireland has committed to intaking 1800 Syrians over three years. It’s worth noting that Lebanon, almost eight times smaller than this island, has taken over 500 times that number already.
Britain has shown great reluctance to take positive action, surely due to the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment and the 3.9 million votes cast for UKIP in their recent general election. And there has also been great reluctance on behalf of many Eastern European states to positively intervene.
Fears of radicals seeping into Europe have been referenced, but there was a time when an Irish accent on a street in London or Birmingham was, to the ignorant, a paramilitary ‘anti-Brit’ calling card, so we must veer away from scaremongering generalisations.
Waterford is seeking City of Sanctuary status, as will be highlighted during the city’s Diversity Festival which runs from September 16th to 19th.
Championing integration and community outreach must form part of any process in which we welcome foreign nationals into our cities, towns and villages, with education and sport leading the way on this front.
Former President Mary McAleese, not for the first time, aptly articulated the views of a great many Irish citizens when addressing a London audience last week.
“The ordinary men, women and children on the street have said ‘actually, do you know what? We have to do something. We cannot just respond by talking about numbers or bureaucracies or structures. We have to talk about this, human being to human being’.”