Ireland migrant target stands at 4,000

Migrants and refugees cross the border between Hungary and Austria, near Nickelsdorf, Austria yesterday. Austrian police say more than 3,000 migrants crossed into Austria overnight at Nickelsdorf, the main border point with Hungary. Picture: AP /Ronald Zak)

IRELAND is to accept at least 2,900 more refugees and migrants fleeing to Europe's borders.

The increase takes the total to about 4,000 with a series of reception and accommodation centres to be opened around the country over the coming weeks.

Priority is to be given to unaccompanied minors, the Government said, with family reunification also a key plank of the emergency response, which will ultimately add to the initial commitment.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said special arrangements are being put in place to care for children who arrive without parents, guardians or relatives.

"Ireland has always lived up to its international humanitarian obligation and we are fully committed to playing our part in addressing the migration crisis facing Europe," she said.

"We have all been shocked and upset at the scenes witnessed in southern and central Europe and the distressing scenes during rescues in the Mediterranean. It is only right that we do all we can as a nation to help.

"Under the new programme agreed today, Ireland will offer a welcome safe haven for families and children who have been forced to leave their homes due to war and conflict."

The resettlement programme is part of European Commission plans to move 160,000 migrants around the continent from Italy, Greece and Hungary.

Britain has so far rejected a Brussels-led approach, opting to draw up its own regime and take in 20,000 Syrians.

A record half a million people have sought asylum in the EU so far this year with Germany receiving nearly half of applications.

The total figure to be accepted at Irish shores will be made up of 600 who were promised refuge several weeks ago as the crisis escalated, 520 people being resettled here under a previous agreement and an additional 2,900 agreed by the cabinet at a special meeting.

Ms Fitzgerald said it is expected that the refugees will begin arriving in groups of 50-100 within weeks, with further groups expected in the run-up to Christmas and into the new year.

It has been estimated to cost €12million a year for every 1,000 refugees taken in.

The Government has called on the European Commission to clarify how funds will be allocated to meet the costs.

The initiative has been called the Irish Refugee Protection Programme and it will include the creation of a series of reception, orientation and accommodation centres around the country.

Housing units have been offered by the Defence Forces while the Office of Public Works is carrying out an audit of vacant and suitable state-owned buildings.

Other offers of accommodation have been made by voluntary groups, NGOs, charities and religious organisations.

The Irish Red Cross is to be given a key role in preparing the centres for the arrival of refugees.

"I have been clear that we must do all we can to harness the potential of these generous offers," Ms Fitzgerald said.

Two other initiatives being run under the Government crisis response include English classes and integration schemes for refugees with the entire programme overseen by a cabinet committee on social policy involving officials from several government departments. It will hold its first meeting in coming days.

Ms Fitzgerald said: "We will put in place all the necessary supports to ensure that those coming to Ireland can integrate as well as helping them to overcome any trauma they endured on having to flee their home countries."

On the security front, gardai have been asked to liaise with EU and international policing bodies to ensure that appropriate vetting arrangements are put in place for all new arrivals.

Everyone accepted into Ireland under the programme will be subject to biometric checks including fingerprinting, the Government said.

Elsewhere, Ms Fitzgerald committed to clearing the backlog of asylum cases in Ireland.

She said new legislation to deal with the controversial use of direct provision centres for people seeking refuge and the ban on the right to work, welfare and education will be introduced in the coming weeks.

Sue Conlan, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council, said real efforts need to be made at every reception and accommodation centre to integrate refugees.

She said local people should be allowed to support them with charity and in particular children should be allowed access to education regardless of how long they will be in a centre.

"We welcome the programme on the face of it," Ms Conlan said.

"We just need to know what exactly is involved and who is engaged with it in order for us to understand does this really address the problem."

Ms Conlan said her one piece of advice to government is to ensure local authorities and communities are brought on board to support integration.

She added: "How are they going to accommodate people and then move them on? If their refugee status is fast-tracked, then move them on to what and where, and are they in discussions with local authorities and communities?

"It's a good start."

Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, said: "Over the last decade, Ireland has built up significant expertise in dealing with the particular needs of separated children.

"We believe that the system here has the potential to care for and protect these children as they fully deserve. An important promise has been made and what we need now is a commitment to ensure that the necessary resources are forthcoming so that these children can be fully supported after they arrive to Ireland."

Meanwhile, Health Minister Leo Varadkar announced free prescriptions for asylum seekers in the direct provision system.


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