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Statement by President Higgins for World Refugee Day 2024

Date: Thu 20th Jun, 2024 | 16:42

“World Refugee Day is one of the most important dates in the calendar, a day to reflect not only on the challenges facing so many people across our shared planet, but to consider how real our commitment is to tackling those issues which cause people to seek shelter.

May I suggest that we use World Refugee Day 2024 as an opportunity to reflect on how the refusal to seek to understand migration in its full range of sources is causing such problems, and on how seeking to understand and promote an understanding of the drivers behind forced migration is so significantly and dangerously absent in our discourse.

Yet that is a crucial starting point – be it drought, floods, conflict, terrorism, hunger or displacement.

We must reflect on whether Europe is having a constructive engagement with migration – have the Member States of the European Union faced the present populations of Africa, South America and Asia and acknowledged the devastation of the colonising actions of previous centuries and the many consequences of that, including climate change? 

Acknowledgement of the past by all policymakers clears the way for informed and innovative present and future action.

Where is the engagement, we must ask, with study and seeking to understand the different sources of such issues as conflict, climate change, hunger, poverty, family difficulty and aspirations for a life of security, freedom from hunger, poverty and fulfilment of one’s life capacity?

These are issues which must be present in the discourse and at the top of the agenda for discussion.

Migration is lodged in the psyche of the Irish people, we know that the human species is a migrant species and we must understand how it responds to changes in climate, security or economic arrangements.

The rise of exclusion of the ‘other’ across Europe is deeply troubling, but it can be reversed. We must all work to ensure that a new discourse is achieved, one that contains accurate information, including such positive facts as that which point to how migrants, when they are allowed, contribute so positively to a country’s economy. We must challenge those who always and negatively describe migratory activity on a migratory planet as “the problem of migration”. 

Values such as solidarity, openness, kindness and compassion are at the heart of what is needed to confront the rise of hatred and anti-migrant feeling across Europe and the world. 

I suggest that we must never lose sight of the possibilities that remain for us in the pursuit of conditions of a shared peace; how our lives could be liberated and fulfilled without war, famine, hunger and greed in a shared, just world that eschews the poisonous ideals of imperialism, racism and ‘Othering’ and embraces the decent instincts of humanity; how through shared efforts, we can build a society of inclusion at home, while working together with other nations to build a peaceful, sustainable, hopeful world.

In our contemporary circumstances, we have to consider how we engage with each other, how we speak to each other, how we listen, or don’t listen, how taken-for-granted assumptions prevail, often with little questioning, how narratives around such fundamental issues as war and peace can become accepted and even hegemonic. 

It is so important that communities promote a sense of solidarity, inclusiveness and cohesion amongst its members to transform, re-imagine, restore and renew, identifying what is necessary to be achieved, and confronting and challenging obstacles to equality.

I have seen areas around the country open their hearts to those arriving at our shores seeking refuge. I have seen so many examples of care and compassion as members of a community come together to fundraise, to look after their most vulnerable, their older citizens, their sick, and to lobby for much needed facilities for their children, or for their marginalised members. 

At the heart of this activity lies an acknowledgement of the crucial importance of the public space, the public world, and a citizen awareness that brings with it, not only a sense of belonging, but a sense of responsibility for those with whom we share that public space.   

As members of that global community, let us all commit to playing our role, in working together and supporting each other, in our shared strengths and vulnerabilities, to ensure that future generations will inhabit a more just and equitable society.”