Refugees, and a question of ‘overstretching ourselves’



There are between 42,000 and 55,000 Ukrainian refugees in Ireland, depending on who you talk to, with most in collective accommodation like hotels and otherwise vacant premises. Some 10,000 are working, 12,000 are in school and 1,000 at college.

With most with a roof over their heads, the argument that Ireland, in taking in these wronged and desperate people, and in abiding by EU regulations, has “overstretched itself” seems to be, so far, no argument.

That said, and with around 200 Ukrainian refugees a day still coming into Ireland — and depending how the war rolls out, there’s no telling what lies ahead — of the 500 buildings ‘available’ to accommodate the refugees, only 10 — yes, 10 — are in use. Talk by government officials of modular houses to accommodate the refugees is just that right now — talk. However, as I write, there is talk of the first such houses being “ready by the end of January of February”. We will see.

Staggeringly, up to 85% of accommodation offered by Irish people to Ukrainians has not been followed through by various officials, the argument for such being largely put down to “Garda vetting”.

There’s also lack of communication between the Irish Red Cross and local councils.

And, Direct Provision hasn’t gone away, you know.

It is the individual experience that proves perturbing. Some asylum seekers and refugees from Ukraine living in hotels, with one in four bedrooms being occupied, are now being told they will have to move elsewhere. Such tourists accommodation had a six-month contract to provide such accommodation but, according to sources, some outlets are saying the contract will not be renewed.

The move will be particularly disruptive for families whose children have been attending schools in the surrounding area — and there have been other examples of such ‘sudden uprooting’.

One letter from a hotel tells the refugees: “Due to the severe pressure on the availability of IPAS [International Protection Accommodation Services], we will not be in position to take requests for moves to particular locations.”

That hotel is just one of more than 300 hotels housing refugees where contracts will expire between now and Christmas. Whether any others’ contracts are renewed is debatable.

It is then we will see if we have overstretched ourselves.

Reportedly, county councils have at least 400 shared and more than 4,000 vacant properties that could possibly be used but some, arguably, are too remote and have no public transport available.

Gardaí insist there are no delays with vetting, but said some applications may take longer as additional inquiries have to be carried out. “Of the 3,789 vetting applications received, 3,776 have been processed with an average vetting time of one working day,” a Garda spokesperson said.

The Irish Red Cross has previously criticised local authorities for failing to act quickly enough to co-ordinate inspections of accommodation for suitability and such. Some councils have said they are at capacity and have no more available accommodation, while others have shared and vacant properties.

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar says: “There is no limit on the amount of compassion the Irish people have, but there is a limit to capacity.” Depending on how things pan out in the coming weeks, he may be wrong about his first point, because Irish people’s ongoing generosity and compassion are, to judge by radio talk shows and media reports, potentially finite.

All refugees, not just Ukrainians fleeing war, dream of finding work, of finding a country that will offer them an opportunity to pay their way. Many have heard Ireland “is good at that”.

They, in turn, can be good for us. Migrants searching for safe havens and opportunities benefit their host nations’ economies within five years of arrival, suggests an analysis of 30 years of data from 15 countries in Western Europe, including Ireland. The study, in the journal Science Advances, finds that soon after a spike in migration, the overall strength and sustainability of the country’s economy improves and unemployment drops. Its conclusions contradict the idea that refugees place an excessive financial burden on a country.

Then there’s the bigger picture. In the world right now, there are 51.2 million refugees. Earth’s rising population is expected to top nine billion by 2050 and 11 billion by 2100, according to the United Nations. Feeding that population will require more arable land even as swelling oceans consume fertile coastal zones, driving people to seek new places to eke out an existence.

Meanwhile, the Irish homeless figures have reached 11,000 + …

*Affairs of the Heart by Paul Hopkins (Monument Media €14.99) can be ordered online at


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