September 12: Refugee crisis requires us all to do our bit

What can I do to help?

What can I do to help?

That has been the gut reaction from many Limerick people to the refugee crisis that has convulsed Europe in recent weeks.

It’s a natural reaction to the suffering we have witnessed via our screens and newspaper pages since the crisis began.

For many, it was the heartbreaking image of little Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach that finally brought home the terrible human cost of this crisis.

But the reality is that he is just one of thousands of men, woman and children who have lost their lives in a desperate bid to escape to the relative safety of Europe.

So, what can we do to help?

On page 3 of this week’s paper, we meet some of the local people who are finding ways to respond to the crisis.

Over 200 Limerick people have offered beds in their own homes and scores more have been donating badly needed provisions through groups such as the Limerick to Calais appeal.

There are numerous other events taking place throughout the city and county to raise money to help the refugees.

All this is testament to the generosity and compassion of the people of Limerick.

It shows too that we have not forgotten our own past and how, over many generations, Limerick people have been welcomed in Britain, the United States, Australia and other countries around the world when we were in dire need of refuge ourselves.

Those families who have braved flimsy rafts, razor wire and intimidation to reach Europe deserve not only our generosity, but also our respect.

Simply welcoming refugees here is just the first step.

As Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey says in this week’s paper, the arrival of so many talented people should be seen as an opportunity and a “privilege”.

But our record in welcoming those who come here seeking asylum leaves much to be desired.

Many have languished in the Direct Provision system for years, unable to work and expected to survive on €19 a week.

If we decide - as we should - to accept more refugees, the least they deserve is to be treated with respect. That means more than giving them a bed. It means giving them the opportunity to build a real life here.