The panel on last night’s Tonight with Vincent Browne
On TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne.
The panel was comprised of Syrian lawyer and Dublin restaurant owner Ghandi Mallak, Irish human rights activist and documentary maker Caoimhe Butterly, legal advisor to the Irish Refugee Council Maria Hennessy, and Áine Ní Chonaill, who founded the Immigration Control Platform party in Ennis, Co Clare in 1998.
The panel discussed the war in Syria; the 9 million Syrians who have been displaced – around 5 million within Syria and 4 million who have fled the country; and how, last year, 1.3 million people seeking refuge, not just from Syria, came to Europe, which has a population of 500 million.
A clip from Ms Butterly’s award-winning documentary, The Border, was shown in which two teachers from Aleppo spoke to her from a makeshift refugee camp in Idomeni, on the border of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, at the beginning of this year.
While introducing it, Ms Butterly said:
“Although this clip focuses on these two Syrian women, these two survivors, I think it’s important also to widen the frame, in terms of migration, out past Syria and not just to exceptionalise the Syrian experience because, horrific as it is, there are people seeking refuge from Congo, from Eritrea, from Afghanistan, from Mali, from multiple other contexts. And conflict is only one one frame with which to view this. There’s also, as you know, climate change and resource grabbing and sectarian persecution, etc. So I think to have a more nuanced understanding of, you know, the determinants of forced migration and to recognise that this is a new reality that the EU has to deal with in a less myopic way and a more human way.”
After the clip, Mr Browne asked Ms Ni Chonaill if, on a humanitarian level, Europe should welcome more refugees – given that countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey have taken the greatest numbers of Syrian refugees and, more importantly, given that Europe had a part of play in the political unrest in some of the countries from which people are fleeing.
During her response, Ms Ni Chonaill said people who left Syria and entered Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey had “already fled the bombs and bullets” and were only moving on for economic reasons.
She said: “Europe has had enough of this.”
From the discussion following this…
Caoimhe Butterly: “I’d just like to respond. I mean, I think for a lot of us who are engaged in refugee solidarity and migrant justice work, or work with the undocumented and with asylum seekers in direct provision, living through the unjust direct provision in Ireland, the xenophobic discourse we’ve just heard, is nothing new to us. I have to say, at this stage, I think we’re all quite used to it, I think to the inhumanity of it, to the complete lack of empathy of it, to the other-ing, and to the selfishness of it ultimately. I think of an approach which prioritises, you know, really excluding those who have every right to seek refuge and lives of dignity in our homes. But, while listening to that, I’m just, I’m back from Calais a couple of days and all I could think of are the families, the women, the men and the children there, of such deep dignity and integrity and bravery, you know, who have risked so much to build lives of safety and I think it’s just a profound shame that this discourse is, you know, given time, that it’s given space…”
Aine Ni Chonaill: “Just listen to that now. What a democracy we live in…”
Butterly: “It’s not about censoring..”
Ni Chonaill: “Those who oppose you must not be heard?”
Butterly: “It’s not about silencing, it’s about widening that window of empathy and actually looking at the consequences of…”
Ni Chonaill: “You just said the discourse shouldn’t take place.”
Butterly: “…of responsibility. No, I think a discussion in which the lives of people who are condemned to death by these policies, at sea and in the backs of airless refrigerated trucks will be continued to be condemned to death by that lack of empathy. I just find it deeply sad and I really wish that those who hold these opinions could go and see, and interact, with these people and listen to their stories.”
Ni Chonaill: “I, particularly since Caoimhe has mentioned Calais, the people in Calais are in a safe country, France, but they have the brazen unadulterated cheek to say, ‘oh that won’t do, it’s got to be Britain. Nowhere else will do us. We’re going to Britain.”
Butterly: “They have families, they come from post-colonial contexts in which they speak English.”
Ni Chonaill: “Oh how, they speak English. ‘Oh I’m not going to go to the trouble to speak French. I’m going to Britain.’ They are in safe country and they have the brazen cheek, backed up by idiots like yourself, to say it’s got to be Britain.”
Maria Hennessy: “They actually have legal rights that aren’t being respected, under the Dublin Regulation, in order to be able to arrive in the UK because they have family members.”
Ni Chonaill: “And they only have to go through the asylum process in France and I’m quite sure that they can communicate with Britain..
Talk over each other
Ni Chonaill: “The right of family reunification is the right of the people in Britain to say ‘I want my relative in Calais to come’, it isn’t actually, I think you being a lawyer, will know that. It isn’t the right of the person in Calais to say ‘I want…'”
Hennessy: “I think you’re confusing now, we’re talking about family reunion under the Dublin Regulation…”
Ni Chonaill: “So am I…”
Hennessy: “…which happens before you’re through an asylum procedure. Well you’re incorrectly quoting it there when you talk about it because…”
Ni Chonaill: “Well I’ll stick to what I’m correct about. They have a brazen cheek to say ‘I’m in France but France won’t do’.”
Hennessy: “They have a right to be reunited with their family members. You have to remember about the principle of family unity within the right to seek asylum with your family members.”
Ni Chonaill: “I consider Britain a decent country and I’m happy for them to do their regulations.”
Vincent Browne: “Do you not feel there’s some obligation on the part of us, as members of the human race, to assist people who are in dire straits, such as the people in Syria, such as the people in parts of Africa, such as the people in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and elsewhere and that we should do our bit to assist those people.”
Ni Chonaill: “No, and on and on and on with your list. And, as Caoimhe said, it was very interesting to listen to her, we must not exceptionalise Syria, neither must we, we must think of all these others ones, including the climate change and she seemed to imply the economic difficulties as well. It is neverending. And the rights you talk about…”
Browne: “I didn’t talk abut rights.”
Ni Chonaill: “No, no, no, sorry…”
Talk over each other
Ni Chonaill: “This right to asylum. Well, really, it’s too much to go into this evening but the Geneva Convention that was set up in 1951 said, and these people know that, it said this applied, I’m putting lay language into it, this applied to, it was a mopping up operation, after world war two, this applied to people displaced after world war two. It applied to nobody else and no other circumstance and in 1967 with the New York protocol, because of the Cold War, and having no idea what was coming down the line in the future, they stupidly expanded it and both of, they never, ever, ever would have signed it, the countries of the west, if they knew what it would mean.”
Browne: “Ok, Maria wants to come in…”
Ni Chonaill: “And there’s an opt-out clause in both of them.”
Hennessy: “I just hope you never have to flee conflict..”
Butterly: “I was just thinking the same thing..”
Hennessy: “I really, really hope that you never do because it’s such an inhumane response. I just can’t believe it. It’s truly shocking.”
Ni Chonaill: “Never mind the playing the man, not the ball, stick to the policies..”
Browne: “You’ve been playing the man, you called them stupid a few minutes ago.”
Hennessy: “Okay, so we have our international legal framework within the Geneva Convention, as correct, you referred to the 1967 protocol as well. We’re also part of a Common European Asylum System. And, as part of the Common European Asylum System, we’ve signed up to a number of obligations under the charter of human rights…”
Ni Chonaill: “Which my organisation opposed precisely for this reason…”
Hennessy: “Well, we’re a member of the European Union, we’re part of the Common European Asylum System. Ireland is one of the main, when we talk about the Dublin Regulation, it’s always been signed under the Irish presidency of the Council of the European Union…”
Ni Chonaill: “So what..”
Hennessy: “So we have opted into that Common European Asylum System, it is grounded in international human rights..”
Ni Chonaill: “We have done all these foolish things, yes..”
Hennessy: “…in many ways, but not in all ways. And you just really need to look at the right to asylum being really being guaranteed in practice as well as in law. And I just really hope that you never are in the situation where you have to flee your home.”
Ni Chonaill: “The Geneva Convention should have never been interfered with. It should have been what it said, purely as a mopping up operation after world war two. And both of those things, the convention and the New York protocol have an opt-out clause. Of course the EU would be a different kettle of fish but any country that signed up, as we did in, I think it was 54 whatever, every country can give a 12 months’ notice and withdraw from it and if we’d any cop on, that’s what all the countries of the west would be doing.”
Butterly: “Who is we? What constituency do you represent? I mean, really, who is we? Because I would say that there is a deep core of empathy and humanity and compassion in Ireland and I’ve seen that on so many expressions, from the grassroots up and I really hope that, that you can bear witness to some of that, whether it’s on the ground in camps or face to face with people who are prioritising empathy. We can go into policy but I think the core of this is having the basic humanity and decency to see people in times of need and to do the right thing by them.”
Ni Chonaill: “There will be no end to times of need. Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea. And on and on and on.”
Watch back in full here