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A Ukrainian refugee travelling on the train to Moldova Alamy Stock Photo

Government will try to 'avoid' Ukrainian refugees being left to sleep on streets

Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman could not rule out refugees sleeping on the streets amid “grave concerns” over capacity.

LAST UPDATE | 21 Oct 2022

THERE HAVE BEEN ‘grave concerns’ over the availability of accommodation for refugees this winter, with Minister Roderic O’Gorman unable to rule out people being forced to sleep on the streets.

The Taoiseach, however, said the government will do “everything” it can to avoid that situation.

It comes as the Citywest facility was closed to new arrivals yesterday due to a lack of capacity, with new arrivals from both Ukraine and other countries potentially needing to stay overnight in Dublin Airport.

This morning, Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman was unable to confirm that refugees would not be forced to sleep on the streets due to the lack of accommodation.

When asked on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, O’Gorman said: “I can’t rule that out.” 

He said that the Government was currently “not in a position to guarantee everyone an offer of accommodation”.

“What we will do is prioritise vulnerable people, we’ll prioritise women and children in terms of the provision of accommodation and for those who we are not able to offer accommodation to we will work with NGOs to provide some services to them,” O’Gorman said.

“That’s why we’re speaking very clearly today and engaging with the Ukrainian embassy in terms of letting people know that there is a major constraint on capacity, particularly next week. It’s not that we have no accommodation available, but we don’t have enough accommodation available.”

The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth have said that there are currently over 58,000 people (42,000 Ukrainian, 16,000 International Protection) being accommodated in Ireland.

Later, speaking after an EU Council meeting in Brussels, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said refugees being left without accommodation is “something we will do everything we possibly can to avoid and to prevent”.

“What’s happening in terms of the pressures we are experiencing is happening right across Europe. This is what Putin wants,” the Taoiseach said.

I have no doubt that the latest episode of the war which is focusing on civilian infrastructure and energy infrastructure is designed to create a new wave of migration from Ukraine.

“It’s an appalling, cynical, targeted strategy by Putin which is creating miserty for many many Ukrainian citizens and their families,” he said.

“Europe has to stay united and send a very clear message to Putin that this will not work.

A Cabinet subcomittee meeting on Monday will analyse accommodation capacity.

Speaking in Cork this afternoon, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said that the accommodation system was currently under pressure.

“We’re clearly under pressure, in terms of the amount of accommodation that we need to find. I mean, over the last six months, the State has done the equivalent of finding accommodation for the population of the city of Waterford,” said Coveney.

That is putting our country and our systems under enormous pressure and it’s really coming to a head now because we know that that those who are coming in today and tomorrow, certainly, the women and children will be accommodated in citywest but it may not be possible to accommodate some of the men.

Coveney said that two months ago, there were approximately 750 Ukrainian refugees arriving into Ireland a week but this has rapidly increased to around 1,500 a week, alongside 400 people from other countries seeking international protection.

Speaking to RTÉ in Waterford, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that Ireland is facing a massive refugee crisis, but it isn’t possible to turn people away.

“The truth is we are no longer in a position to provide accommodation for everyone who arrives in the country and we need to be honest about that. But we’ll do our best to accommodate as many people as we can,” Varadkar said.

“It’s a very difficult situation and we’re in the same boat as pretty much every other country in Europe. We can’t turn our back on these people.

“While there’s no limit on the amount of compassion that Irish people have, there is a limit to capacity and at the moment we’re at the point where we just aren’t in a position to guarantee accommodation for everyone who arrives.”

He added that it wasn’t possible to turn people away due to Ireland’s membership of the European Union.

‘Grave concerns’

The accommodation shortages have raised serious concerns within groups representing refugees, including the Ukraine Civil Society Forum (UCSF), which is made up of more than 60 NGOs.

While the UCSF says it recognises the difficult situation the Government is currently in, there needed to be “big decisions” made to shift from emergency planning to medium/long-term planning.

National Coordinator for the UCSF, Emma Lane-Spollen, said:

“The Government has finally recognised the severe capacity issues at the Citywest Transit Centre that have led to significant overcrowding and safety issues. Yesterday, there were 1,050 people in a facility designed for 300, sleeping on chairs and the floor – this includes pregnant women, young children and the elderly.”

The UCSF is deeply worried that a tragedy, like the death of a baby in an overflow centre in the Netherlands which sparked questions about the conditions in the centre and availability of medical care, could occur here.

She added that the current crisis is “not going to ease up” and that an increase in arrivals is not unexpected.

“What is worrying is that the Department of Children, Equality, Disability and Youth had raised this likely scenario with the Senior Officials Group weeks ago, and yet here we are,” Lane-Spollen said.

Lane-Spollen said that while the Department had done a “phenomenal job” accommodating over 58,000 refugees, there now needed to be a “strong pipeline” of medium term accommodation.

Earlier today, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council Nick Henderson said that it was a “most, most serious situation”.

“It really represents a breakdown in the reception of refugees, both Ukrainian and people seeking protection here in Ireland,” Henderson told Morning Ireland.

Both Henderson and Lane-Spollen raised concern about the entire response to the crisis being led out of one Department, with the UCSF calling for the long-term response be led by the Department of the Taoiseach.

Lane-Spollen said that Ireland needs to begin sustainable planning to accommodate people for “at least” two years.

“The UCSF urges the Government to urgently plan for the future, recognising refugees as people, traumatised and needing security.”

Additional reporting by Hayley Halpin, Niall O’Connor and Lauren Boland

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