The humanitarian crisis warranted the calling of the Mid Ulster District Council Emergency meeting.
We are quite literally talking about people living in unacceptable conditions. We are talking about people being denied their basic human rights. To our shame, we are talking about people dying in unimaginable numbers.
The people who find themselves in the centre of this crisis must find new homes and lives due to the circumstances in their home countries.
United Nation figures at the end of 2014 suggest there are 19.5 million refugees in the world. This figure is growing on a daily basis to the tune of 42,500 people a day are forced to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere.
Internally Displaced Persons throughout the world, that is those who are forcibly uprooted and displaced within their own country, is estimated to be in the region of 38.2 million.
These figures should outrage people and much more needs to be done to help bring this to an end.
Recent media and public attention has been focussed on the crisis occurring in Syria due to the heart-breaking images we have seen through various media outlets. The United Nation figures suggest that the highest source of refugees is currently Syria, with approximately 4.9 million people.
It’s important to note that United Nations figures also suggest there are currently 5.1 million Palestinian refugees, that’s 200,000 more. We should be shouting from the rooftops about our Palestinian brothers and sisters who have been forgotten by many in the Western world. Media outlets should be held to account for refusing to report the war crimes that occur there.
Every one of the 19.5 million refugees in this world deserve better.
Here is a description of four stages refugees could potentially go through taken from an internet source. It puts the ongoing crisis in context.
“Expert’s state that all refugees go through one of these four distinct stages, unfortunately, the most vulnerable people, if they ever manage to reach safety at all, go through all four.
The first stage is the persecution that forces people to leave their homes. Some reasons for fleeing are war, political persecution or other kinds of violence.
The second stage is what happens to people when they are forced out of their homes. Often they end up in camps. Life here can be difficult, cramped, and unsafe with few prospects for work or education. Often people are kept from integrating into the local community which prevents them from creating stable and productive lives.
The third stage is when people seek safety outside of the camps, often in more developed countries. Their situation leaves them with no options but to take high risk journeys, some of which we have sadly seen played out in the media. These journeys are usually dangerous, such as crossing the Mediterranean on a rickety boat.
The fourth stage is the one many western countries are experiencing now: what happens when large numbers of refugees show up. Often, they face systems that are badly broken – most European countries are still trying to keep refugees out and refusing to accept even a remotely sufficient number of them for resettlement. This means families who make it to Europe end up in camps, sleeping in train stations, or living in fear of deportation.
The last step of this crisis is about much more than just funding; its forcing some really sensitive political issues to the surface in Europe, over migration and identity, and the future of the European Union. Until Europeans can figure out those issues, refugees will continue to suffer.”
Calling for the emergency meeting of the council I am fully aware the Mid Ulster District Council is limited in its ability to provide support, and I know it does not have the power to solve this issue in it’s entirety.
But it does have the ability to make a difference to some.
I have been inspired by the generosity and outpouring of support from a large number of people in the Mid Ulster area.
Recently, there have been aid collection points developed, charity events organised to raise funds, and people donating their time to help in any way they can, including some people offering to travel to the worst affected locations to deliver the aid gathered from this district.
I asked for the meeting as I believe we as elected representatives, and through the infrastructures of the council, should be able to voice our support for the work of our heroic citizens, but also to offer practical assistance.
The practical options I proposed to council were:
(1) That the council send the message to the Irish and British Government, and also the European Union stating that we abhor the terrible humanitarian and refugee crisis unfolding across Europe and the Middle East and that this council is committed to working with them in providing support for people who come to this area.
(2) that the council dedicate some staff time to engaging with the organisations and groups within the Mid Ulster area who are dedicated to helping with the crisis in order to obtain direction on how this council can support.
These proposals were accepted unanimously.