State response to Ukraine crisis included ‘heavy reliance’ on community sector

Policy briefing paper says safeguarding concerns raised by the voluntary sector

The State's response to the Ukrainian crisis has included a "heavy reliance" on the community and voluntary sector to provide supports to migrants, a new policy briefing paper from Social Justice Ireland says.

The paper says the sector amplified safeguarding concerns relating to unaccompanied minors, “leading Government to put the relevant protections in place”.

“Migrations in Our Common Home: Responding with Care – Ireland’s Response to the Ukrainian Crisis” was published on Monday by a new roundtable group chaired by Social Justice Ireland and included members from across civil society, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and academics.

The briefing paper says Ireland’s response to Ukrainian migrants has “been almost exemplary” and the “human rights first” approach should be a blueprint for a reshaping of Ireland’s international protection system. However, it adds the response is “not without its flaws”.

“Within the Irish response is a heavy reliance on the community and voluntary sector to provide supports such as co-ordination of accommodation, teaching English, supporting family placements and so on,” it says.

“It was the community and voluntary sector who amplified safeguarding concerns relating to unaccompanied minors, leading Government to put the relevant protections in place.

“The sector continues to highlight these concerns in respect of accommodation placements that are arranged privately between a Ukrainian family and an Irish host, in recognition of the imbalance of power within that relationship.”

Colette Bennett, economic and social analyst with Social Justice Ireland, said the community and voluntary sector are already "stretched to their maximum" and had serious cuts to their funding following the financial crash in 2008.

“The sector has been trying do the same, if not more in terms of service provision, with less resources,” she said.

“Covid saw an incredible response by the sector in terms of community engagement . . . and it’s the same groups again that are being called upon to respond to this.

“While they are doing it, and doing it willingly, there has to be a fatigue involved as well in that they are just not resourced to continue to fight the fires they’re fighting when they don’t have the resources to do it, whether in manpower or in finances.”

The paper recommends that the long-term implications of the war in Ukraine, especially with respect to sufficient housing supply, need to be addressed as "a matter of urgency as many of these refugees may not be in a position to return to Ukraine for years".

It also says that Government must invest in infrastructure and services which “benefit all”, and encourage awareness-raising among hosting communities, including at educational level.

The implications of the gendered nature of this forced migration also needs to be addressed, the paper says, with most of those arriving are women and children.

“This cohort has unique and specific needs that must be addressed to facilitate their integration in Ireland, including the provision of appropriate accommodation that both meets their needs and complies with safeguarding legislation for children and vulnerable adults,” it says.

The paper further recommends that the Government must borrow to deliver the necessary infrastructure and supports, taking a “war-time” approach to servicing the debt.

“Ireland should engage with the EU Commission to ensure they are willing to show further flexibility and suspend the fiscal rules and ensure they are willing to support this correct response to the Ukrainian crisis and resultant forced displacement,” it says.