Statement on the refugee crisis and the EU-Turkey agreement

The EU-Turkey agreement is the most recent in a series of developments during the refugee crisis that has seen the European Union slowly abandon the fundamental principles upon which it was founded: the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity.

In the midst of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War, it was incumbent on the European Union to urgently establish a just, fair and comprehensive resettlement programme for refugees fleeing persecution in Syria and elsewhere.

Key to any such resettlement programme must be the provision of safe and legal pathways to Europe, and to Ireland. The 2014 Syrian Humanitarian Admission Programme was an important initiative by the Irish Government to provide such pathways, to ensure that Syrian communities here in Ireland could sponsor and support family members in need of protection. Ireland’s deployment of the Naval Service to the Mediterranean has also been hugely significant, saving the lives of thousands of people. However, given the scale of the current refugee crisis, these responses, while laudable, remain limited.

Urgent steps are now needed to again take a leading role in enabling safe passage for those fleeing persecution.

Preventing refugees from seeking asylum in Europe through returns to Turkey – a country already host to approximately 3 million refugees – risks placing the European Union in direct violation of the principle of non-refoulement (the prohibition against returning asylum seekers to a country where they risk persecution). It also ignores the humanitarian and human rights imperative for solidarity and a fair sharing of responsibility to provide protection to those fleeing persecution.

Repeated calls for reform of the Dublin system have been ignored by EU Member States, placing a disproportionate responsibility on first countries of asylum within the European Union, including Greece and Italy. Instead of greater solidarity, we are now pushing those responsibilities back further through returns to Turkey and its designation as a safe third country.

Ireland’s support for the EU-Turkey agreement, in the face of a continuing lack of solidarity, and urgent questions as to the adequacy of protection against refoulement, is a matter of serious concern.

Of serious concern too is the situation facing refugee and migrant children, whose rights to protection are seriously at risk.  The UNHCR estimates that children make up 52 per cent of all Syrian refugees.

The UNHCR further estimates that since last September, an average of two children a day have drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean. According to Europol, at least 10,000 children have disappeared since the beginning of the refugee crisis.

The right to seek and to enjoy asylum from persecution is a fundamental human right, protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a core value of the Common European Asylum System.

Ireland has a laudable record in promoting and protecting human rights on the global stage, most recently as a member of the UN Human Rights Council from 2012-2015. 

The current impasse at European level, presents an opportunity for Ireland to show the same moral leadership, and to arrest the disturbing European trend of regression from fundamental human rights values.

Ireland can become a leading voice for a revival and enhancement of the European Commission’s resettlement programme, founded on the principle that the European Union shares a collective obligation to provide protection to those fleeing conflict in Syria and elsewhere.

In this regard, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission recommends that Ireland:

  • Reassess its current commitment of 4,000 refugees under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, agreed in 2015.
  • 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.
  • Address as a matter of urgency the wider and well-documented human rights concerns surrounding the State’s international protection system. This should include putting an end to Direct Provision, and reforming the systems for the reception of asylum seekers and the processing of their applications, in line with human rights standards.

Offering protection to people fleeing systematic human rights violations is not optional, nor is it charity. It is a matter for Ireland and the EU of legal and moral obligation. The Irish government, and the EU collectively, have thus far failed to adequately meet this obligation. 

For further information please contact Sile Murphy, Communications IHREC on 086 0288132/ Twitter: follow us @_ihrec



The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights Commission was established by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014. The Commission has a statutory remit to protect and promote human rights and equality in the State, to promote a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding and to promote understanding and awareness of the importance of human rights and equality. The IHREC is tasked with reviewing the adequacy and effectiveness of law, policy and practice relating to the protection of human rights and equality and with making recommendations to Government on measures to strengthen, protect and uphold human rights and equality accordingly.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) is accredited as an A status national human rights organisation by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI). GANHRI coordinates the relationship between the national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and the United Nations human rights system by reviewing and accrediting the compliance of NHRIs with the UN Paris Principles.

The IHREC published its 2016-2018 Strategy Statement on 26 January 2016. It can be downloaded at

The Syrian Humanitarian Admission Programme

Launched in 2014, this initiative by the Irish Government allowed naturalised Irish citizens of Syrian birth and Syrian nationals already lawfully resident in the State, to make application for vulnerable close family members to join them in Ireland on a temporary basis for up to two years. See

The Irish Refugee Protection Programme

A programme, announced in September 2015, committing the government to accept up to 4,000 persons under Resettlement & Relocation Programmes in response to the migration crisis. See

The Dublin Regulation

The Dublin Regulation is the European Union law according to which a determination is made as to which EU or EEA member state is responsible for processing an application for international protection. The principle underpinning the regulation is that the responsible State is that through which the asylum seeker first entered the EU. See

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