The warning to the Cabinet on Wednesday that up to 33,000 Ukrainian refugees may need to be accommodated in the State by the end of next month came as a sobering reminder of the real challenge involved in honouring this country’s open-door policy. To date 25,000 have arrived.
For many of our generous fellow citizens, inspired to offer accommodation, the personal cost of that challenge is only dawning – the Red Cross reports that more than half of the 24,000 pledges of accommodation for Ukrainian refugees have so far failed to materialise, presumably because initial impulses to generosity gave way to a realisation of what that would really entail.
Part of that may be linked to dawning appreciation that we may be in it for the long haul as the war enters its second, likely-to-be prolonged phase. The result is that those arriving from Ukraine have largely been housed either with family and friends or in hotels. A shortfall in hotel beds, although 10,500 have already been sourced, means emergency accommodation facilities are now beginning to be used.
The resource implications are huge. The cost of Ireland providing humanitarian support for refugees from the Ukraine war is expected to reach €2.8 billion next year, according to internal Government figures.
But in terms of the challenges facing our partners in eastern Europe Ireland's bill is relatively moderate. Nearly 5 million people have fled the war into the EU, a flow far greater than the number from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq who fled to Europe in 2015 when close to a million crossed the Mediterranean. The EU has granted temporary protected status to Ukrainian nationals and certain legal permanent residents of Ukraine for up to one year and countries and cities have been quick and generous in their response – setting up reception centres, collecting supplies, opening their homes, and dispatching humanitarian convoys to war-torn regions.
Poland alone has taken in 2.8 million refugees. It could spend up to €24 billion this year hosting them,Warsaw has said, at least €11 billion on housing and social services, and more than double that if three million Ukrainians settle for the rest of the year. Warsaw, a city of about 1.6 million, is now hosting more than 300,000 refugees, many sleeping in hastily set up welcome centres.
Romania has accepted 750,000, Hungary 471,000 and impoverished Moldova 471,000. Many are moving on to other EU states, and others will stay close to home hoping for a quick return; for the first time since the start of the invasion, the number of Ukrainians leaving Poland and returning home has outnumbered those fleeing the country via the Polish border, despite warnings from Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko not to return yet.