Archbishops leads the Ballingarry Famine Walk
The Archbishop of Cashel and Emly has said there are parallels between the great Irish famine of the 1840s and modern day famines across the world today.
Dr Kieran O'Reilly was speaking in Ballingarry on Sunday for the annual Famine Walk that remembers that major tragedy in Irish history.
A large crowd turned up for the walk from The Commons to the Warhouse.
Archbishop O'Reilly described the walk as a journey of solidarity with those who at this moment are on the road - travelling seeking food and shelter, safety and security for family and friends, fleeing from war and strife.
"Our journey is not meant to be undertaken in sadness but rather in awareness of a world beyond our own. A world where many - especially the young and the elderly suffer greatly – this thought is sobering and thought provoking as we travel the short distance to the Warhouse.
He said that as they walked, they recalled the famine that scarred the land and the national identity up to the present but they also look beyond their own tragedy to where, in our world right now, human beings are faced with disastrous famine situations and the inevitable consequences – displacement of peoples whether internally or externally in a particular country, movement of peoples, refugees on the road seeking safety, shelter and food.
"In speaking about the current refugee crisis in the world and, in particular in Europe, I would like to highlight two aspects of this situation around famine and civil unrest - East Africa food situation and the crisis in Burundi", Dr O'Reilly said.
He said that in East Africa, over 24 million people are facing malnutrition and the threat of famine across South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia due to prolonged drought. Trócaire is currently reaching over 150,000 people across the East Africa region with emergency food, water, sanitation and healthcare.
"Governments in the region are responding but they are overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis. They have appealed for international aid to support their efforts. Trócaire is providing life-saving aid across Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. In Somalia alone Trócaire health centres are treating 19,000 people each month for malnutrition and associated illnesses".
Meanwhile a further situation that gives rise to large numbers of refugees is that of civil strife and instability asin Burundi.
He said - "Over the last year and a half, some 300,000 Burundians have fled their homeland to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. So far, this unfolding refugee crisis and the escalating political situation in Burundi have received little attention in the mainstream media.
"Violent clashes between protestors and police began in Burundi in April 2015 when incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a third term – a move deemed unconstitutional by his opponents.
"Nkurunziza stood for presidency again and was re-elected in July 2015, despite opposition parties boycotting the election and the African Union and United States asking him to stand aside. Approximately 450 people have been killed in Burundi as a result of the political unrest.
"The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is warning that neighbouring countries Tanzania, Rwanda, the DRC, Uganda and Zambia are struggling to host the 300,000 Burundians who have fled the violence".
Archbishop O'Reilly said that at a time when a record number of people around the world are displaced by violence, the international community needs to stand behind international law to ensure safety for people who have been forced to flee as a result of famine or civil unrest.
UNHCR reports more than 81,000 Burundian refugees now live in Rwanda, with children making up half of the refugees there, many of whom are unaccompanied.
Archbishop O'Reilly also spoke about the European refugee crisis and the thousands arriving from Africa, on dangerous sea journeys across the Mediterranean.
And he pointed out what Irish people can do to help.
"We can inform ourselves. Follow with interest what is happening in the wider world but also here in Ireland. Engage with the groups who are working for Human Rights and support real efforts to help those in need. Trocaire /Medicins Sans Frontiers/Concern/Gorta Self Help Africa Ireland and many different humanitarian groups helping in the present crisis.
"Solidarity among peoples is key to our ability to build a world of justice and peace".