More Ukrainian refugees will arrive in Ireland over the winter due to the destruction of electricity, water and food networks in their home country by Russian missile attacks, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.
“I anticipate over the winter period we’ll see more and more Ukrainians come to Ireland, particularly because of what’s happening there,” the Minister for Enterprise said as he attended a trade meeting in Brussels.
“[Russian president Vladimir] Putin has failed militarily, but now is using energy, food, water as weapons of war, which is reprehensible, and we have to stand against that.”
Mr Varadkar described the struggle to house the record numbers of refugees in Ireland as a “very difficult situation”, but he said the Government is examining reusing office buildings, warehouses, and tented accommodation to fill the gap. He also repeated a call for citizens with spare rooms or vacant properties to make them available for use.
More than 60,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Ireland so far, a figure that is lower than the number that have arrived in countries closer to Ukraine both in absolute terms and relative to the size of Ireland’s population.
Poland and the Czech Republic have registered more than 1.4 million and 400,000 Ukrainian refugees, respectively, about 3.7 per cent of their populations, compared to Ireland’s roughly 1.2 per cent.
However, the levels are unprecedented for Ireland, and combined with rising numbers of asylum seekers from elsewhere have outpaced the capacity of accommodation centres.
Asked whether non-Ukrainian refugees are getting a different level of treatment, Mr Varadkar said it was simply “a fact” that ordinary asylum seekers had a different legal status to the EU special protection status applied to Ukrainians.
“We’ve decided as a European Union that any Ukrainian citizen can come to Ireland, and avail of temporary protection. People who arrive in Ireland as asylum seekers are in a different category. They don’t have the same legal status. And that’s just a fact,” he said.
Mr Varadkar said his department issues 40,000 work permits and visas each year to people coming to Ireland for work, and that this was the correct route for people moving for economic reasons.
“Ireland is not a hard country to get into in that regard, and as you know many have their asylum applications refused because they are actually economic migrants who didn’t go about it the right way, which is to apply for a work permit or work visa,” he said.
Meanwhile, Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan has defended his Green Party colleague, Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman, saying he is facing an “incredible task” of housing unforeseen numbers of refugees this year.
“Every time you think ‘how can we go any further?’ you find that you are in circumstances where you do have to go further,” he said in Paris on Friday.
“So we are testing every option and looking for every eventuality. It’s not easy but I think the way his team, and he has led this out, has been exemplary in very, very difficult circumstances. We have found temporary accommodation. No one wants to be in this situation, least of all the Ukrainian people themselves. But we do have to manage. It is a European war, and we are all connected in this union and we committed to help them.”
Mr Ryan said the first modular housing units are starting to be built. “I think we will need a lot more of that as well as other emergency accommodation premises,” he said. “Unfortunately, there is no sign that this war is ending any time soon. So we will have to consider what was an immediate emergency response and look to see how can we make that more sustainable.”
He accepted that Ireland is facing a housing crisis. “But that doesn’t stop you in a wartime situation as part of an EU response. We show solidarity. We are part of a common approach. We don’t pass our responsibility.”