Since the widely-condemned Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, an estimated 11 million people have been displaced. Of those, 4.5 million have fled Ukraine and taken refuge in neighbouring countries and beyond. The majority have been received by Poland, Romania and Hungary, with more than 25,000 arriving in Ireland to date.
Ukrainian citizens who have been displaced and forced to flee the country have been granted Temporary Protection Status in all the EU member states (excluding Denmark).
The Temporary Protection Directive is a European Union law, first introduced in 2001, which sets out a special procedure to deal with a mass influx of people from non-EU countries in need of international protection.
Temporary Protection Status lasts for one to three years and provides numerous rights for its beneficiaries. Firstly, a residence permit is issued for the entire duration of protection granted, along with the right to immediately access employment, accommodation and income support. The Status provides the right to medical care, state education for those 18 and under, as well as the right to move freely in the EU. Individual countries are invited to grant additional rights but cannot provide less than what is set out in the Directive.
The Temporary Protection Status differs to refugee status, though it gives the person the right to apply for asylum. Despite this right, it is not possible to be resident in Ireland with temporary protection and be an asylum applicant at the same time.
To qualify for asylum and receive refugee status, the applicant must have a well-founded fear of persecution in their country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group. They must be outside of their own country, unable to return there because of the well-founded fear of persecution, and they must be unprotected in their own country.
In March 2022, given that there was a significant risk that the asylum systems of EU countries would be unable to process mass applications within the required deadlines, the Temporary Protection Directive was activated by the European Commission and the European Council for the first time since its introduction.
In Ireland, the visa requirement for Ukraine was lifted, as well as Covid 19 entry requirements, to ensure the smoothest possible entry to the country for displaced Ukrainians.
Since Ukrainians began arriving in Ireland in February, the government has been attempting to fulfil all the rights set out under the Temporary Protection Directive.
The Red Cross Pledge campaign has been instrumental in making accommodation available for Ukrainian refugees. The Campaign facilitates members of the public to offer up rooms in their home, or a spare property, to refugees. So far, there have been 24,000 pledges made by Irish people eager to help. To ease the financial burden of taking in Ukrainian refugees, the government is considering offering a €400 monthly payment to help hosts with the cost. Despite this, more than half of the pledges were either withdrawn from families that changed their mind, or the Red Cross were unable to contact them to follow up on their pledge.
Hotels across the country have also offered up their rooms for refugees, some not too far from GDSI’s office here in Galway.
In Carna, a tiny Galway village with a population of just under 3,000 people, the local hotels have welcomed Ukrainian refugees. In March, The Carna Bay Hotel made the decision to close until June in order accommodate those who need their hospitality most. Similarly, in Lisdoonvarna, northern Clare, a village renowned for the annual Matchmaking Festival, over 800 Ukrainians have found refuge in local hotels. Hotels have made in clear that they cannot sustain accommodating refugees into the summertime, as the tourist season approaches. With the Government reiterating that Ireland will not place a cap on the number of refugees it will take in from the Ukraine, and pledges not working out along with the rapidly approaching summer season, there is growing concerns about Ireland’s ability to accommodate refugees.
As a backup measure, dormitory style accommodation in facilities like community halls and spots halls has been put in place, but it is not a long-term solution.
Apart from housing, a key need for Ukrainian refugee families is education. For refugee children, getting enrolled in school is of the utmost importance so as to bring structure and a sense of normality to their abnormal situation. To date, almost 4,000 Ukrainian students have enrolled in 670 primary and secondary schools around the country.
In terms of providing employment under the Temporary Projection Directive, industries like tourism and hospitality, which have suffered with staff shortages after Covid lockdown, have begun employing Ukrainian arrivals.
In Galway, the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel in Clifden has taken on a team of refugees in various departments, a welcome distraction for those whose lives have been completely turned upside down. The famous Bewleys café in Dublin has also offered employment in the bakery and head office, as well as establishing a team of Ukrainian interpreters in the café to provide advice on employment to Ukrainians in need.
Many Ukrainians that have so far arrived in Ireland have entered into employment, and education. With increased fighting in eastern Ukraine, it is expected that many more will flee and seek refuge in Ireland. The Irish government has made it clear they have no limit to the numbers of refugees we will take in, leaving many questions surrounding how they are to be adequately accommodated and supported.