LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Ireland’s bishops are calling on the government to “act quickly” in resettling refugee children from the Moira refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece.
After a fire at the camp in September destroyed the accommodation of around 13,000 people, leaving them to live on the streets, the Republic of Ireland agreed to accept 28 unaccompanied children for resettlement in Ireland.
However, Ireland’s national police force now says it can’t send officers to Greece to perform the necessary security checks on the potential immigrants due to “health and safety concerns” arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the fact members of Ireland’s child and family agency have been given the authorization to go to the camp.
“I was deeply saddened to hear recent reports that plans to resettle children seeking refuge from the Moria camp in Greece, to Ireland – originally scheduled for September 2020 and again last month – have been further delayed,” said Bishop Denis Brennan of Ferns, the chair of the Irish Bishops’ Council for Immigrants.
“Those forced to migrate have already experienced immense hardship to reach camps like the one in Moria,” he said.
Brennan called the Moira camp “cramped, unhygienic, and inhumane” even before the fire, and said the Irish government’s plan to relocate only 28 children “represented the bare minimum support and refuge that we should be offering, particularly to unaccompanied children who have suffered so much trauma in even their earliest years.”
He said the fact nothing has happened to help the children in the seven months since the fire was “appalling.”
“For anyone, and especially for a child on their own, another day, another month living in fear in dire conditions in a refugee camp is another day of suffering and trauma that no one should have to endure,” the bishop said.
““We know too how vulnerable unaccompanied minors are to the traps of those who deal in despicable acts like human trafficking. On such an issue we cannot act swiftly enough,” he said.
So far, the government has only identified 14 children that have potentially qualified for relocation, all believed to be from Syria. However, there are fears that if they aren’t relocated soon, the plan will be indefinitely shelved.
In a statement to state broadcaster RTÉ, the Department of Children said if the deadline for completing the relocation is not met “this group of children will not be relocated to Ireland at this time.”
“The establishment of a successor program or exploration of bilateral arrangements may be required in order to effect the relocation of unaccompanied minors as soon as possible,” it said.
In his statement, Brennan called on the Irish government “to act as quickly and decisively as possible in this case to bring these children to safety and shelter here in Ireland and to look at any way in which we can seek to accommodate more than a mere 28 unaccompanied minors.”
The bishop noted that Pope Francis has called again and again on the international community to do more in the face of this devastating global reality of our time.
“In his recent message to mark the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, [Francis] said: ‘In each of these people, forced to flee to safety, Jesus is present as he was at the time of Herod. In the faces of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, strangers and prisoners, we are called to see the face of Christ who pleads with us to help’,” he continued.
“In our own country, where so many have emigrated seeking welcome on other shores, let us be generous in responding when we are asked to do the same for others,” the bishop said.
There might be a solution on the horizon: The Irish national police announced officers in activities that constitute a “high risk” of exposure to COVID-19 will be vaccinated ahead of the ordinary schedule mandated in the Irish vaccine regime. This includes officers working at quarantine hotels and those who might travel abroad to Lesbos.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome