Refugee chaos: a better welcome is needed




Having been Ireland of the Welcomes for Ukrainian refugees arriving here, the current reality is now like a modern Nativity story despite public goodwill.

There is no room at the inn.

A situation where the latest 250 arrivals in the ongoing low of 41,000 refugees to date, had to be stabled at Dublin airport on airbeds or the floor is unacceptable. Earlier, there was a delay in providing temporary tented accommodation at Gormanstown army base in Co Meath. Third level accommodation for refugees is about to dry up and numbers seeking asylum from other countries has already doubled to 6,500 this year.

The situation is chaotic. It’s the kind of mess that results when individuals and volunteers try their best but are thwarted through lack of an overall management plan and strangled by bureaucratic red tape.

Accommodation offered by individuals has fallen far short of the original number promised, with the system under the Red Cross for contacting and vetting accommodation simply not working.  Of the vacant homes offered 79 % were withdrawn, unsuitable or the owners couldn’t be contacted. Similarly, 74% of offers of shared accommodation didn’t work out. Other have made informal arrangements with refugees, avoiding delays involved in official channels.

The Garda vetting system for homeowners offering accommodation for Ukrainians with children – which already involves long delays for locals – is another bottleneck resulting in the loss of 5000 homes on offer. Does this form filling system where householders have to supply every address they have lived at really work as a form of protection? Surely a more streamlined checking system could be found?

The Taoiseach has urged ministers “to put their shoulders to the wheel” to resolve the crisis, but the result is likely to be more of the same piecemeal approach.  The brutal war in Ukraine is not going to be short lived and the flow of refugees is going to continue. It should clear, despite the best efforts of ministers and departments involved, that a dedicated task force or agency is needed to deal with not only with the crisis but the long-term refugee situation.

Above all it needs a fresh approach to sourcing accommodation, both those offered by the public s with a streamlined contact and vetting process and new options which could be used. Contracts could be offered to holiday home owner, as there are 1,000s or large vacant buildings and homes, near empty convents or monasteries, and then the option of modular homes (why aren’t we using these to solve the native housing crisis ?)

The agency would need overall responsibility for the care refugees and the authority to co-ordinate the efforts of volunteers. There are 65 organisation  under the umbrella of the Ukraine Civil Society Forum alone.

What we have at present – with the notable exception of the Department of Education which has worked wonders in getting Ukrainian kids into school – is a chaotic despite all the voluntary effort and goodwill.

An 80% majority of Ukrainians here are women with children, many want to work and earn in order to integrate more fully but they face a language barrier and have child care needs. While there are volunteer efforts why not open group evening classes in schools or allow Ukrainians to offer childminding?   Some women are highly qualified – this in a country with skill shortages – but their qualifications aren’t recognised so they end up in menial part- time jobs. Why can’t we have an enabling and imaginative approach instead of nay saying rules?

Many of the Ukrainians we are hosting will eventually return home but some will stay, joined by partners and enrich our society. Others seeking asylum from different countries are more likely to stay, but they enter the direct provision system although a majority here agree they should be  treated equally.

It’s not enough to open the door, the Government need to make it easier for refugees to integrate and join our society.

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