The Government will do “everything we possibly can to prevent” refugees being left without accommodation, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said, but he also warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin was seeking to create “another wave of migration” from Ukraine into the EU by bombing civilian targets.
Mr Martin’s comments, made in Brussels at the conclusion of a two-day summit of EU leaders, came after Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman admitted this morning that some refugees could end up sleeping on the streets due to a lack of emergency accommodation.
Mr Martin said there were “pressures happening right across Europe because of the war — because this is what Putin wants.”
“And I’ve no doubt that the latest episode of the war which is focusing on civilian infrastructure, energy infrastructure is designed to create a new wave of migration from Ukraine. It’s an appalling, cynical, targeted strategy by Putin which is creating misery for many, many Ukrainian citizens and their families. Europe has to stay united and give a very clear message to Putin that this will not work,” Mr Martin told journalists.
He ruled out any question of a temporary halt to admitting refugees and said that there would be a Cabinet subcommittee meeting on Monday at which ministers would be given a full analysis of the accommodation capacity and possible measures that can alleviate the pressure.
Mr Martin said that the Government was doing “everything we can” to deal with the refugee crisis, pointing out that 55,000 Ukrainians had come to Ireland, along with 9,000 people from other countries seeking protection this year, compared to last year’s total of just 4,000.
“We have pulled out the stops and we will continue to work to pull out all the stops,” he said, adding that Ireland was part of a Europe-wide effort to react to the “worst humanitarian crisis since second World War.
He said that a previous pledge to increase the €400 a month paid to households which had accepted Ukrainian refugees was “under review”.
Mr Martin said that the summit had heard a “very sombre and worrying presentation” from the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who told the EU leaders that a third of the energy infrastructure has been destroyed and Ukraine’s biggest dam has been mined by Russian forces.
“The war has taken a very horrible, horrific turn,” Mr Martin said, “and we in Europe have to be very united in our response.”
Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that the Government has spoken with the Ukrainian Ambassador to Ireland, Gerasko Larysa, to explain the severe difficulties being experienced with efforts to accommodate Ukrainian refugees coming here.
“We have spoken to the Ukrainian ambassador here to ask her to send the message that Ireland is under pressure from an accommodation point of view and when we have done that with her before, it has had a positive response in terms of reducing the numbers in the short term,” the Minister for Foreign Affairs said.
Speaking at Naval Service HQ at Haulbowline in Co Cork, Mr Coveney said that the Government enjoyed a good relationship with Ms Larysa, who was aware of the challenges that Ireland was facing in accommodating those fleeing the war given that the numbers had doubled in just two months.
He also revealed the Government is to hold a special meeting on Monday to try and find some solutions to what is a worsening accommodation situation. Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman warned on RTÉ's Morning Ireland that some refugees may end up sleeping on the streets.
“We’re going to have a Government subcommittee meeting on Monday afternoon specifically on this issue with all of the relevant ministers, myself included, to look at how we can actually deal with this in the medium term,” he said.
“That’s because in August and September, we were seeing about 750 Ukrainians coming to Ireland per week, we are now seeing probably about 1,500 if not more and on top of that about 400 others seeking international protection, per week.”
Mr Coveney said that the State is currently accommodating 58,000 people - some 42,000 Ukrainians and 16,000 International Protection applicants or asylum seekers - which was the equivalent of the State finding “accommodation for the population of Waterford city over the last six months”.
“This is a war effort effectively from Ireland responding predominantly to support women and children who are coming from Ukraine, fleeing war and horrific experiences and circumstances and that is putting our country and our systems under enormous pressure,” he said.
“It’s really coming to a head now because we know that those who are coming in today and tomorrow certainly the women and children will be accommodated in Citywest, but it may not be possible to accommodate some of the men.”
Mr Coveney said the Ukrainians were different from those coming here seeking asylum as they were effectively being treated as European Union citizens, as they were in other European Union countries, which had agreed to accept them fleeing “a full-scale war on the continent of Europe”.
“Every country has an obligation if somebody comes to their country to claim asylum, then you have an obligation legally to go through a process, to assess that application and provide adequate accommodation in the meanwhile,” he said.
Mr Coveney said that the vast majority of the Ukrainians who have already come to Ireland are in good accommodation with some 22pc of hotel rooms in the country being used and paid for by the state to accommodate either Ukrainians or asylum seekers.
He stressed the Government will have to plan for “a sustainable response” in the weeks ahead given the numbers of Ukrainians that have already come here but Ireland has to play its role in responding “in a way that is morally acceptable for people who have nowhere else to go fleeing conflict”.