Can we take 200 young people from Calais? Yes we can

02 November 2016

No-one can be untouched by the plight of the 1500 children who were left to fend for themselves when the Calais ‘jungle’ camp was dismantled. There is something deeply disturbing about seeing young people whose lives have already been so traumatised, abandoned in scenes reminiscent of a futuristic movie about survival after the collapse of civilisation. And this happened in a Europe whose values are based on solidarity and social justice.

As Europeans, we can and must respond. This is not just an issue for France and Great Britain.

Ireland has been asked to take 200 of these young people. The most important thing that can and must come out of the debate tonight is that we can do this and do it quickly. We need to show collective political will.

A number of us who are speaking in the debate tonight attended a briefing today given by Irish people who have first hand experience of the Jungle and who told us what needs to be done and, more importantly, what can be done.

They were very clear on a number of points that I want to put on the record: the vast majority of the children are English-speaking and want to go to an English-speaking country and that includes Ireland.

There are some extraordinarily dedicated Irish peoplewho have been working with these children for months, who have won their trust and, in doing so, won the trust of these young people that Ireland would be a safe and welcoming place to go.

They described boys and girls who are extraordinarily resilient and determined, who have seen the horror of family members killed, made their way across the Sahara desert to the African coast and over to Europe,others from Syria, Iraq and Iranfleeing war and looking for some kind of future where they can start their lives over again. They have described them as young people who would have a huge amount to offer to whatever country they settle in.

There is, a special team in TUSLA that has expertiseand experience in dealing with unaccompanied minors who are highly vulnerable, alone and traumatised. That team is ready to be mobilised.

Last year, the Red Cross compiled a list of hundreds of people willing to become foster families in response to the migrant crisis. They can be asked to take up that role again. I have no doubt many of the same families would respond.

It is clear that we have the structures and personnel to provide a new start for 200 or more young people who are in desperate circumstances.

The reaction of Government chief whip Regina Doherty is welcome. What is now needed is a whole of Government determination to make it happen.

As the chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Brian Killoran, has said: “The statements made today must lead to action to help these children”

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