Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said Ireland should be “fair and firm and hard” on migration and that the EU should secure its borders so that human traffickers do not decide who enters Europe.
Mr Varadkar made the comments in Brussels ahead of a meeting of EU leaders with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, after he addressed the European Parliament and met with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London on Wednesday.
Mr Varadkar said that it was possible to begin EU accession talks with Ukraine later this year, but said the tests for membership should not be diluted.
“I’ll reassure him that a lot of Ukrainians have come to Ireland, that they are welcome to Ireland that we’ll continue to provide humanitarian support, financial support, and also non-lethal military support through the European Union,” he said of the meeting with Zelensky later on Thursday.
Mr Varadkar also said that EU leaders would be discussing how to respond to an increase in migration from outside Europe, and how to return those who aren’t granted asylum to their country of nationality.
“Just like Ireland, European countries are experiencing a big increase in the number of people coming from outside Europe on an irregular basis and we have to work together to manage that issue as best we can,” he told reporters.
“One of the issues we’re discussing is how we can better secure our external borders around Europe. Because it’s important that we as Europeans decide who enters our countries, not the human traffickers. They shouldn’t decide who comes through the borders.
“The other issue we’re going to discuss is the issue of returns. Lots of people who come into Europe gain refugee status and the right to remain – but others don’t and have to be returned.
“And all European countries are finding it very hard to make returns happen. So we need to talk about ways as to how we can work with countries of origin, essentially, to make sure people are returned to their country of nationality if they don’t gain legal status.”
He added: “I think, when it comes to migration, we need to be fair and firm and hard. We need to be fair with refugees because refugees are welcome in Ireland and people who need our protection should get it.
“We also need to be firm with people who come to Ireland with a false story or false pretences, we need to be firm with them and say that we are going to make a quick decision on your application and we will return you to your country of origin and people expect that.
“We also need to be hard with human traffickers because we should decide who enters our country, not criminal gangs.
“This is an issue that all of Europe is grappling with.
“In many ways, we’re at the end of the line (of migration) as a European country, but nonetheless we have a shared issue here we need to deal with it together.
“But there’s one thing that I’ll be particularly saying: Ultimately, the best thing we can do to make sure that we deal with the issue of irregular migration is to make sure things improve in the countries of origin.
“A lot of people are leaving the countries they live in because they don’t have economic opportunity, because they don’t have freedom because they don’t have democracy.
“I think one of the best things we can do is work on development, work on trade, work on human rights and political freedoms and that will reduce the amount of irregular migration that happens.”
He added that he has “never been a big fan” of hard borders or putting up walls, in response to a question on the calls of members states like Bulgaria to build a border fence.
When asked about concerns raised within his Fine Gael party about a lack of consultation before migrants are moved into an area, Mr Varadkar said work is ongoing to improve communications.
“I do think we need to improve our communications and the information that we give communities about what’s happening in their town or area,” he said.
“People don’t have a right to say who lives in their area, but they do have a right to know what’s happening in their area.
“I think it’s reasonable that communities should get information about what’s happening.”
He said that in the absence of information from Government, misinformation and “false rumours” are spread by word of mouth and online.
“If you don’t provide information, then those who spread misinformation fill that gap,” he said.