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The number of Ukrainian refugees arriving into Ireland is expected to multiply heavily over the coming weeks. PA
Case Study

Ukrainian accommodation: Regions readying for increase of refugees as winter hits

The Journal takes a look at how the southeast region has been managing arrivals.

PLANS ARE GROWING around the country to increase accommodation options for Ukrainian refugees arriving in Ireland during the winter. 

It comes as the Government is to introduce a refusal policy for refugees who are offered alternative accommodation but refuse to vacate their hotels, with the new measures indicating that there has been a shift in policy.

A Government statement on Friday evening said that the current measures in place were “designed as a crisis response on a short-term emergency basis”, when it is becoming increasingly likely many refugees will need to stay in Ireland for a longer period. 

Similarly, future housing capacity will be reviewed, “arising from the population changes arising from the Ukraine crisis”.

As part of the plans from the central Government, there will be an increase in the roll out of rapid-build houses, with a number of sites identified around the country where modular homes will be built to accommodate refugees arriving from Ukraine, with land on army barrack sites also set to be used. 

Charities on the ground in the war-torn country have seen how growing attacks on crucial infrastructure alongside an oncoming harsh winter will drive more people to flee.

Vacant commercial properties 

With numbers set to increase, there have been calls for vacant buildings to be used more in response to the crisis, with one local authority now working at securing more empty commercial properties for “long-term” use. 

Waterford City and County Council’s Ukrainian response coordinator Noeleen Osbourne said use of vacant buildings has been “proven to work” in the region, outlining that three vacant commercial properties in the city centre have been secured recently to provide long-term accommodation for 80 refugees.

One, a former restaurant on the city’s Mall, has been kitted out with beds for 36 people. The other two are due to open in the coming weeks.

They join a list of five other converted commercial buildings already in use. In total there are eight buildings housing 269 refugees from Ukraine. 

There are approximately 1,500 Ukrainians registered with the Department of Social Protection with an address in Waterford, according to a spokeswoman for the council – a major increase in a county where previously roughly 50 Ukrainian nationals resided.

“You know, you hear the negative thing and oh, ‘we’re full’ and we can’t do this and we can’t do that,” Osbourne said.

These people left (Ukraine) often with nothing – only what they had in their car – with their whole neighbourhood just gone and razed to the ground.

“What else do we do? Like the government have confirmed that the Ukrainian citizens are going to keep coming. We’ve anecdotally heard there’s going to be about 200 people a day coming in between now and the end of December.

“These people have to go someplace. You know, we can’t abandon them.”

There have been calls for the government to put more vacant buildings to use, including by People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy who told the Dáil that the “thousands” of vacant properties dotted around the country should be used more to house refugees. 

However, problems are flagged by some in communities at this approach, due to the work required to renovate such buildings.

A former convent in Fethard, Co Tipperary was converted by the local community into refuge for 55 refugees, although John Stokes said it would be “hard to replicate what was done” in the village elsewhere. 

Stokes, an auctioneer who was part of the local group behind the convent works, said the building was already due to be handed over to the community as the religious order which owned the premises was no longer using it.

“We had a building that was already ready to go but it would be much harder to try that with other listed buildings,” he said.

“Regulations would need to be loosened to allow work on other vacant buildings to take place, whereby you might be allowed to convert parts of the interior while requiring the exterior to remain the same as before.” 

Pledged accommodation

Problems have emerged in terms of pledged accommodation. 

Osbourne said that while initially there were 352 properties pledged in Waterford – with 273 from Irish Red Cross and 79 from the council’s own call for accommodation – 207 (or 59%) were withdrawn. This has left 145 properties.

The situation is mirrored in Wexford, which is an entry-point for many refugees through Rosslare Europort.

While the county’s abundance of holiday homes have been a source of accommodation for hundreds, with 300 people alone staying in a holiday resort in the Hook Peninsula in south Wexford, local organisers said they are aware of a number of pledged properties “falling through”. 

“The system at the moment is not functioning as as well as it could or should,” said John Flood, who is a community organiser in the Hook Peninsula in south Wexford.

“There’s definitely properties that are suitable and that are still currently available but the process needs to be streamlined.”

He views this a three-fold approach, “for the person pledging, for the person assessing and for the refugee”.

“It needs to be done faster and also needs to be done within the safety briefings necessary to put nobody at risk,” he said.

Flood, who runs a supermarket in the locality, said that while they have found government help throughout the crisis “excellent”, he believes a “clear message” is now needed on the level of accommodation that can be provided.

When contacted for a breakdown of refugee accommodation, Tipperary County Council directed this website to the Department of Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth as the lead government agency.

It has been contacted for a breakdown similar to that provided by Waterford City and County Council.

Irish Red Cross and Wexford County Council did not respond.

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