Eighteen Irish organisations working in the area of migration have written to Taoiseach Micheál Martin urging him to do more to help unaccompanied children and migrants who have been displaced as a result of a fire at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos earlier this month.
Since the fire, Ireland agreed to take just four of the unaccompanied minors who are expected to arrive here in the coming weeks.
As part of an EU-wide commitment Ireland had already undertaken to accept 36 such children and young people but to date only eight have arrived in the State since June of last year with the Covid-19 pandemic being one of the reasons for the delay.
The signatories to the open letter include; NGOs, Amnesty International, Oxfam and the Irish Refugee Council, are urging the Irish Government to accelerate the relocation of these minors "to avoid further, and unnecessary, suffering".
The letter is also addressed to four Government ministers and their departments including the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Roderic O'Gorman and Minister of State for European Affairs, Thomas Byrne.
Addressing the Moria fire, Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, said: "The young refugees currently being held in Greece have already experienced the trauma of separation from, or loss of their family as well as displacement. The Irish Government should act as a matter of urgency to ensure their safety now, and into the future."
He added: "Ireland recently campaigned on a platform of promoting human rights and being a voice for the world's most vulnerable to secure its place on the United Nations Security Council. At a time when EU member states are being asked to show solidarity with fellow member states and young refugees, Ireland has an opportunity to lead by example in the aftermath of this preventable tragedy."
Nick Henderson, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, said: "We strongly believe Ireland can do more to support young people in this desperate situation. We are calling on the Taoiseach to release extra funds as soon as possible to support Tusla and other supporting agencies so that more than four children can be assisted."
In a statement earlier this month, the Children's minister Roderic O'Gorman acknowledged that Ireland could do more in this regard and said he was working with state agencies to "fulfil our commitment".
In the letter, the 18 NGOs also called on the Irish Government to provide more funding to the child protection agency Tusla, stating: "Accepting only four still leaves the additional 24 children that Ireland has already promised to protect and care for in limbo and hundreds more besides."
The NGOs also expressed concern that the new Pact on Asylum and Migration being outlined by the European Commission today could further replicate what is happening in Greece and other EU 'hotspots', where large numbers are left in camps, waiting long periods for a decision to be made on their applications.
The long-awaited proposal means that EU states that do not want to volunteer to take more migrants, reducing pressure on Italy and Greece, can instead take charge of sending those whose asylum requests are rejected, back to their homelands.
Some groups working in the area of migrant rights had hoped for compulsory quotas on refugee settlements.
A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Youth affairs said that in response to the current situation in the Moria camp in Lesbos, Minister Roderic O'Gorman had accelerated the process for a further intake of children from that refugee camp as part of Ireland's overall commitment.
The spokesperson said Minister O'Gorman and his officials were actively working with Tusla to identify additional resources, in the context of Budget 2021, to meet commitments to the unaccompanied refugee children in Greece as quickly and as completely possible.
The spokesperson said the Department and Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, were working to progress the relocation of four unaccompanied minors from the Moria camp to Ireland.
He said Minister O'Gorman had met in recent days with a number of the organisations that are listed as signatories to the open letter to discuss a range of issues, including the crisis in Moria.
The signatories of the letter are: Oxfam Ireland, Irish Refugee Council, Nasc - Migrant & Refugee Rights, Doras, ActionAid Ireland, JRS Ireland, Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, Immigrant Council of Ireland, Comhlámh, Trócaire, Community Work Ireland, Independent Living Movement Ireland (ILMI), National Youth Council of Ireland, National Women's Council of Ireland, Children's Rights Alliance, European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) Ireland, Amnesty Ireland, Irish Council for Civil Liberties.