Government asked to help Ukrainians facing delays returning home

FG senator says Ukrainians without passports facing months-long delay in securing paperwork to travel back to Ukraine

The Government has been urged to help Ukrainians who fled to Ireland without passports and want return home as they face long delays securing new passports or travel certs to journey back.

Ukrainians were allowed to enter the State without passports and could instead show national identity cards or other paperwork such as a birth certificate or expired documents.

Ireland is not part of the Schengen border-free travel area so any Ukrainians returning home must show passports or travel certs if travelling through countries en route to Ukraine.

Fine Gael senator Garret Ahearn said the Ukrainian embassy was “under immense pressure” and Ukrainians who came to Ireland in the wake of the Russian invasion without passports were facing months-long delays securing new passports or travel certificates to return home.

One Tipperary woman who hosted two Ukrainian women told The Irish Times they were initially told by the Ukrainian embassy that they would have to wait four to six months for new passports and as long as two months for an appointment to secure travel certificates.

The women’s city had been liberated from the Russians and they wanted to return to look after their sick grandfather and because they were homesick.

“It seems ridiculous that Ireland is hosting people who desperately want to leave and cannot, and also is accepting people who will find themselves in the same predicament in time, without giving them the full information,” said the Tipperary woman, who did not want to be named.

In the end, their applications for travel certs were fast-tracked last week after they obtained a medical cert for their grandfather, as requested by the Ukrainian embassy, verifying his illness.

The Tipperary woman said there was an “inherent unfairness” in the fact that Ukrainians with passports do not have to justify their reasons for returning home.

The Ukrainian embassy did not respond to queries from The Irish Times.

More than 2.5 million Ukrainians have returned home since the Russian invasion on February 24th, according to the EU’s border agency, Frontex. More than five million Ukrainians fled the war.

Mr Ahearn said the European Union or the Government needed to consider measures to allow Ukrainians to travel home, similar to the temporary protection arrangements and the waiving of the passport requirement that allowed them to enter the State so quickly.

He suggested that the Government could agree a bilateral arrangement with another EU member state, such as Poland, to allow them travel back quickly without paperwork.

He said the challenges facing Ukrainians returning home were “an unintended consequence” of opening up the country so quickly to allow those fleeing the war to enter the State.

“We have people in the country at the moment who are desperate to get home, from an emotional perspective or a work perspective,” he said.

“There are a lot of men in Ukraine who were fighting and have been injured and are in hospital and family members want to return to them because they believe the country is a safer environment than it was when they left.”

The Tipperary senator suggested that the Government could even provide more staff to the Ukrainian embassy in Dublin to help processing passports and travel paperwork.

The Department of Justice said that, as of June 29th, 38,552 people have arrived into the State since the February 24th invasion of Ukraine, including 1,418 in the week beginning June 20th.

The department said there were no exit checks on people so it could not say how many Ukrainians who have been granted temporary protection status here have returned home.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent