President Michael D Higgins has likened modern refugees to the millions of Irish people who left Ireland during and after the Famine.

Speaking at the dedication of an Irish famine memorial in Perth, Australia, President Higgins said that modern refugees make up the largest number of displaced people on the planet since World War II.

The President asked if the plight of those risking everything to cross continents and seas in search of refuge or a better life is so different from the choices that faced Irish people during and after the famine.

He added that today we have the capacity to anticipate the threat of famine.

"We have the capacity to take measures to avoid it; and yet we have almost a billion people living in conditions of extreme but avoidable hunger," Mr Higgins said.

The President also said that "the Famine, of course, was never merely an accident of nature, nor can it be explained as merely a series of mistakes".

President Higgins is on a state visit to Australia, which officially got under way on Saturday.

He was welcomed at Government House in Perth, with a traditional "Welcome To Country" ceremony from aboriginal elders and a formal welcome by the Governor of Western Australia, Kerry Sanderson.