Rumblings of discontent at the level of immigration into Ireland are a warning sign that our welcome for strangers has its limits. That is not to say that the Claremorris response to the provision of modular housing for Ukrainian refugees is a representative one. The level of goodwill and sympathy for those fleeing from a brutal war remains high, and few could fail to be moved by the plight of displaced families whose future – indeed whose very existence – is unsure.
That said, however, there is every sign that Ireland will soon become a colder house for those seeking a new life in Europe. The past week has seen unambiguous hints from senior Cabinet ministers that long term residents in direct provision accommodation will soon be charged rent for their keep. (There are many who would suggest that being housed in direct provision is punishment enough, without having to pay for the privilege).
The mood of acceptance for asylum seekers can hardly have been improved by the release of Department of Justice information that, in the first seven months of this year, three thousand of the people who came into Dublin Airport seeking asylum, were unable to produce travel documents on arrival. This meant, theoretically, that they were refused leave to land, whereupon it appears that the vast majority immediately claimed asylum status in this country.
But the apparent conundrum to all of this is that travel documents are required in order to board international flights at the point of departure. This means that large numbers of ‘asylum seekers’ are losing or deliberately destroying their passports en route, and before presenting themselves to immigration control in Dublin. To counter this blatant gaming the system, it was found necessary to move passport checks to the steps of the aircraft, to prevent incomers destroying their documents before reaching the arrivals desk.
It is thought that the number of asylum seekers arriving into the country this year will exceed 15,000, a figure which does not include those under sixteen. It is a number which is already stretching the resources of the State and is placing such immigrants in unwelcome competition with the 50,000 Ukrainians who have already found home and shelter and a semblance of normality here.
Intolerance of immigrants has increased globally over the past five years, with some of the least tolerant countries being in the European Union. For many governments, the unceasing flow of humanity is a problem offering few solutions. The displacement of huge numbers of people seems inevitable; the observation by the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, that climate change is one of the main drivers of mass migration is a stark pointer to what the future will bring.
There are governments who have not shirked at cracking down hard on immigration; and it is worth noting that the tougher the policies, the more popular they seem in electoral terms. There are no votes in showing kindness to the outcasts of humanity. Across the water, Boris Johnson devised the Rwanda solution; unwanted immigrants would be summarily despatched to that East African country before they got a chance to set foot on British soil. His most enthusiastic cheerleader was a Home Secretary whose parents – one from Kenya, one from Mauritius – had arrived in England in the 1960s to find a better life for their children.
For every country, no less than for our own, immigration will become a major issue, as divisive as it will be disruptive. But there will come a point where the milk of human kindness will run dry, and where self interest will trump our innate empathy for others.