Fmr. Irish Pres. on Refugees: "It's Shameful So Many Died and So Many Live in Terrible Conditions"

December 10, 2015



Mary Robinson

president of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice. She served as president of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and U.N. high commissioner for human rights from 1997 to 2002.

As hundreds of thousands of people from war-torn nations are housed in European refugee camps, we speak with former Irish President Mary Robinson, who decries the conditions refugees face during their journey and in camps where they are held when they arrive. Robinson says their rights to better treatment have been ignored despite being guaranteed by the United Nations.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I have a final question. We just came back from Calais, about an hour and a half from here, the largest refugee camp in France.

MARY ROBINSON: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of people from war-torn nations, from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, who are trying to get into Britain, they can’t. I wanted to ask you about what you feel should happen with Ireland—it’s been criticized; a group of NGOs are saying 22,000 refugees should be allowed in—what you think should happen. These people are fleeing war.

MARY ROBINSON: I am more constrained talking about Ireland as a former president. I’m not at all constrained talking about the migrant situation. It really—I feel it is shameful that so many have died coming across the Mediterranean, that so many live in terrible conditions, because they have human rights. They have the right to the dignity of moving. And they don’t have a right to go to any particular country. That’s the trouble. But refugees have rights under the Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, and those rights are not being respected at the moment. So we need more pressure.

I’m glad that Angela Merkel has got recognition for what she was doing on migrants, because we have to have leadership in different countries. And the reality is that without that leadership, the populist, far-right representation in different countries will, you know, walk all over this. So we need very clear, principled leadership based on human rights and based on gender equality.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you have any presidential advice for a Republican presidential candidate in the United States, Donald Trump, who says, "Don’t let Muslims into the United States"?

MARY ROBINSON: I’m glad that he is being rightly outraged and condemned for that, and that even people in Britain don’t want him to visit. And I think—you know, I think the world reaction may well be enough to bring home that he is not a suitable person to be president of the United States. He’s not qualified. He’s saying terrible, racist, exaggerated things just to get publicity.

AMY GOODMAN: Former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson. She now runs the Mary Robinson Foundation–Climate Justice and is the former U.N. high commissioner for human rights, on this International Human Rights Day. When we come back, we go to the protest, within the COP here, of hundreds of people demanding a just Paris accord. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Ta’Kaiya Blaney, a 14-year-old from the Sliammon First Nation in Canada, singing her song, "Turn the World Around," at the International Rights of Nature Tribunal here in Paris on Saturday. You can go to to see her full performance.

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