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Ó Snodaigh challenges McDowell on World Refugee Day

20 June, 2004

Welcoming World Refugee Day on June 20th, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Equality Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD challenged the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell to "show real leadership on refugee protection and send an unequivocal message that refugees are welcome here."

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"Minister McDowell has been conducting a war on refugees ever since he assumed office. During the election period he used them as scapegoats for his Government's failure to make adequate provision for healthcare and housing for all in this state. By his public statements he has himself directly contributed to the widespread misperceptions about them as a group. Irish people need to be educated about the conditions these people have fled.

But the Minister has failed in his duty to inform the public of the real facts.

The message the Minister should be sending is that asylum seekers are deserving of compassion - not derision - for having fled situations where their lives were at risk, or where they were wrongly imprisoned or tortured.

"On the occasion of World Refugee Day, I challenge the Minister to show real leadership on refugee protection. I challenge him to stop criminalising refugees, and to stop contributing to widespread misperceptions about them as a group. I challenge him to instead exercise his responsibility to dispel the prevalent myths about refugees and asylum seekers, and about Ireland's role in refugee protection. He must send an unequivocal message that refugees are, in fact, welcome here and will be shown the respect that they deserve.

"I am also calling for an end to the dispersal and direct provision policies which strip asylum-seekers of their dignity and deprive Irish society of their potential contributions to our economy. Many of these people are skilled, educated workers who are prevented from making a valid contribution here while awaiting their refugee status. Other countries issue temporary work permits to allow asylum seekers to work and pay taxes while their applications are in process. There is no reason why we could not do the same.

"It is time for us as a society, in general, to honour our cultural tradition of hospitality and show refugees the welcome and basic respect that every human being deserves. We live in the fourth wealthiest state in the world, so we can well afford to play our part and fulfil our international obligations on refugee protection. I call on all policy makers and public representatives to reflect on this on World Refugee Day." ENDS

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