Ukraine refugee crisis: The different approaches taken by Ireland and the UK

State has opened the door to Ukrainians while the UK talks ‘security concerns’

The contrast in the approaches taken by the Irish and British governments to Ukrainian people seeking refuge as they flee the Russian invasion could not be sharper.

At Dublin Airport, there is a “one-stop shop” – as Minister for Justice Helen McEntee described it – where people fleeing the war-torn country receive a Personal Public Service (PPS) number allowing them to work and access supports and where they can register for accommodation where necessary.

There is access to phone chargers and SIM cards. In a dedicated room at the airport, there are toys, baby food and nappies for the many children arriving into the country.

The Government waived visa requirements for Ukrainians the day the Russians attacked and, in concert with other EU countries, is offering temporary protection for at least a year.


On the UK side, there are obstacles and red tape, lots of it. TV and newspaper reports have relayed stories and images of desperate, exhausted families being turned away by UK immigration officials and lines of people, including elderly people in their 90s, standing outside a British visa centre in eastern Poland in the snow queueing for the papers to travel to Britain.

Since the invasion, 2,965 Ukrainian nationals, mostly women and children, arrived at Dublin Airport as of Wednesday, including 486 on Sunday, the highest daily number of arrivals.

In the UK, a country with a population 13 times the size of Ireland’s, just 957 visas were approved by Wednesday for Ukrainians, while 22,000 applications had yet to be processed.

Where McEntee talked about how she was considering taking in Ukrainian refugees into her own home, her British counterpart Priti Patel, the UK home secretary, was discussing balancing "the risk" of security concerns about letting Russians infiltrate the UK by claiming to be Ukrainian refugees while responding to the Ukrainian refugee crisis.

"Ireland and the European Union have gone all in on this, which is great. It puts us on the right side of the issue," says Nick Henderson, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council.

“The UK approach is sort of speaking for itself. In this moment of crisis, the UK Home Office should be thinking about how we can support and welcome Ukrainian refugees, not thinking about it being a problem or about there being a security risk.”


The British government has been criticised as an international outlier for a slow and inadequate response to the humanitarian emergency that has so far resulted in 2.1 million people escaping Ukraine in the biggest movement of people within Europe since the second World War.

On Thursday, the UK relaxed its restrictive post-Brexit entry requirements for Ukrainians, which meant that those with passports can apply for entry online and have to provide only biometric details – fingerprints and a photograph of the applicant’s face – after they arrive in the UK.

This will allow Ukrainians to join family members in the UK without the need to travel to visa application centres to help reduce pressure on British immigration facilities in Poland, Hungary and elsewhere in Europe.

The move followed reports that about 600 Ukrainians had been turned away by UK border officials at a visa application centre in the French port of Calais since the war began and sent to other cities in Europe after travelling hundreds of kilometres from Ukraine on gruelling journeys.

The new UK rules will exclude anyone who left Ukraine without their passport or a form of identity document. Given the haste with which some left, this could exclude many.

At Dublin Airport, State officials at the border management unit have shown flexibility by accepting identification issued by the Ukrainian government or an authority recognised by it that establishes identity and nationality to the satisfaction of an immigration officer.

Security concerns

This week, McEntee gave short shrift to a Daily Telegraph report about security concerns expressed by an unnamed British government source about Ireland’s approach to the war refugees and how the Government had “basically opened the door to everyone in Ukraine”.

“It is not like there are no checks at all,” said one source. “But we have to accept that people had to leave Ukraine in very extreme circumstances and may not have been able to get access to their passport. If they show up and don’t have a passport, we will ask for other identification.”

Patel and McEntee spoke last week about some of these issues. The British secretary tweeted details of their March 2nd meeting, saying they spoke about supporting Ukraine and “its brave people” but also “the need to keep homeland security at the forefront of our minds”.

The Ukrainian crisis and the EU’s unprecedented use of Temporary Protection Directive has changed “the magnet” that once drew people to the UK, pulling them instead to the EU, says Henderson of the Irish Refugee Council.

Others working in the area of support for refugees and asylum seekers despair at the approach taken by the UK government.

"I am just staggered and horrified. It is a very sorry contrast to what is happening here," says Tiffy Allen, national co-ordinator of Places of Sanctuary Ireland, a network of local groups which promote a culture of welcome and inclusivity for newcomers.

“I am very disappointed with UK making it so difficult for Ukrainians to find sanctuary there. It seems to reflect government negativity towards refugees generally, and it does not reflect the views of many thousands of UK citizens... who want to welcome refugees.”