President questions future of national borders to block migration amid climate threat

‘We can’t look at those drowned in the sea… without realising that something has gone desperately wrong,’ Michael D Higgins says

The threats posed by climate change will raise questions about the future use of national borders to block migration, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Speaking at the end of a five-day official visit to Senegal in West Africa, Mr Higgins said ”the nature of the climate effect is such that it isn’t viable to be talking about borders and migratory measures in the way we did before”.

“Everything has changed,” he said. “We can’t look at those drowned in the sea… without realising that something has gone desperately wrong.”

Questioned about the current debate in Ireland around rising immigration, Mr Higgins said Irish people living in poverty, who feel threatened by refugees and asylum seekers, need to understand that by taking them in the country is making a “commitment to a common humanity”.


Regarding the current lack of accommodation available for some asylum seekers on arrival, Mr Higgins said “unfortunately we made an excessive reliance on the market to solve our housing situation”.

He also urged black Irish people to “stay strong” against racism, “and know that whatever exceptional marginal abuse will ever come near you there’s a vast, vast majority of people…[who] are with you.”

The trip to Senegal, his third presidential visit to Africa, saw Mr Higgins speak at a food security conference, hold bilateral meetings with the presidents of Nigeria and Sierra Leone, and visit a former slave-trading centre.

Mr Higgins, accompanied by his wife Sabina, was roundly critical of the role played by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the UN and more during the visit.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Higgins said he felt that African leaders appreciated the criticism he levelled at global trade systems and multilateral institutions. “You can’t say the responsibility for feeding themselves is on the hungry people of the world,” he said.

Repeatedly calling for this to be “Africa’s century”, Mr Higgins spoke about the necessity of debt restructuring, the problems with multilateral institutions, and decried global food production and distribution systems as “fundamentally flawed”.

”How did so many in Africa become so dependent on so few staples, the production, distribution and consumption of which they have so little control?” he asked.

Introduced on stage at the food security conference as “a friend of Africa”, Mr Higgins, the only non-African president present, said “the challenges ahead are urgent and they can seem increasingly daunting”.

”Let us recognise the scale of the agenda we face: addressing hunger and global food insecurity, tackling climate change and biodiversity loss, protecting rural communities, continuing to build an inclusive, peaceful, resilient and sustainable world…” he said.

“In these dark moments let us look to the resources and influence that Africa can harness. And let us not just dream, but decide to act together to make this century Africa’s century,” he said to applause.

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa