Ireland’s response to the Ukrainian crisis – a blueprint for a better future?

Posted on Sunday, 22 May 2022
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Migrations in Our Common Home -  Ukrainian Response
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Ireland’s response to the Ukrainian migrants has been almost exemplary and this “human rights first” approach should be the blueprint for a reshaping of Ireland’s International Protection system, according to a policy briefing published today by a new Roundtable on ‘Migration in our Common Home’, chaired by Social Justice Ireland and including members from across civil society, NGOs and academics.

However, it is not without its flaws. Within the Irish response is a heavy reliance on the community and voluntary sector to provide supports such as coordination of accommodation, teaching English, supporting family placements and so on. It was the community and voluntary sector who amplified safeguarding concerns relating to unaccompanied minors, leading Government to put the relevant protections in place. The sector continues to highlight these concerns in respect of accommodation placements that are arranged privately between a Ukrainian family and an Irish host, in recognition of the imbalance of power within that relationship.

There is also the risk that this crisis is being seen as a temporary problem, with reports of temporary housing being needed for “up to three years” and that, once the war is over, Ukrainian migrants will return to their own country and rebuild their lives. However, there is no clarity as to what pathways to protection will be available if the key driver of displacement endures beyond this point.

Notwithstanding these pitfalls, the current response is a marked improvement on existing systems. The question is, why haven’t we done this before? the EU Directive was adopted in 2001 in response to conflict in Kosovo but only triggered for the first time by the Council in response to the Ukrainian situation in 2022. It has taken 21 years for EU Member States to respond to forced displacement with the necessary urgency. Meanwhile, over 8,500 men, women and children were living in the Direct Provision system at the beginning of 2022, and while the White Paper on Ending Direct Provision commits the Government to replacing the system by December 2024, the reality is that this figure includes approximately 2,000 individuals who were living in Emergency Accommodation or Pre-Reception centres.

Questions raised in this new policy brief include:

  • Do we have a category ‘deserving refugee’ and another category ‘undeserving refugee’, and, if we do, how do we distinguish between them?
  • Wars, disasters, discrimination and other climate events are rising globally, often with the complicity of world leaders who fail to take action. Where was their protection? Where is it now? And why are sanctions appropriate for Russia, but not appropriate for other countries committing similar atrocities?

Beyond the immediate challenges faced by Ukrainian people forcibly displaced, the wider geopolitical impacts of the crisis – the dependency on Russian fossil fuel production and resultant risks, together with risks to food security – will be felt globally into the future, and disproportionately impact those who can least absorb them. 

According to the Roundtable, Ireland “needs to focus on the care, human rights and wellbeing of all. The legitimate expectations of people living in Ireland are not being met. This is most obvious in areas such as housing and homelessness, a two-tier healthcare system, the deepening rural-urban divide, and high levels of poverty and social exclusion, especially among children. These are all areas that must be grappled with in addition to our response to the Ukrainian crisis.”

Policy Recommendations

The policy brief sets out five key recommendations which, it says, must be addressed:

  1. Most of the current response is understandably short-term. However, the long-term implications, especially with respect to sufficient housing supply, need to be addressed as a matter of urgency as many of these refugees may not be in a position to return to Ukraine for years. 
  2. Most of the needs of Ukrainians are very similar to those on which Irish society is already facing major challenges e.g. housing, healthcare, education, public transport, work and childcare.  Government must invest in infrastructure and services which benefit all, and encourage awareness-raising among hosting communities, including at educational level.
  3. The implications of the gendered nature of this forced migration also needs to be addressed – most of those arriving are women and children.  This cohort has unique and specific needs that must be addressed to facilitate their integration in Ireland, including the provision of appropriate accommodation that both meets their needs and complies with safeguarding legislation for children and vulnerable adults.
  4. There is a moral imperative to respond to the needs of forcibly displaced persons in Ireland in an equal, fair and consistent manner, irrespective of their pathway to protection. The significant challenges to implementation of The White Paper on Ending Direct Provision and the Day Report that have emerged will be exacerbated as a result of the conflict in Ukraine.
  5. Finally, how all of this is to be financed is a question that requires an urgent answer as, while it will cost a great deal of money, this is necessary spending in unprecedented times. Government must borrow to deliver the necessary infrastructure and supports, taking a "war-time" approach to servicing the debt.

Ireland should engage with the EU Commission to ensure they are willing to show further flexibility and suspend the fiscal rules and ensure they are willing to support this correct response to the Ukrainian crisis and resultant forced displacement.  This does not mean that we borrow over the long-term to avoid broadening the tax base and increasing the total tax-take. We need to do both, but not simply to reduce the deficit or the debt.  There is a pressing need to refocus on preparing Ireland for a post-Ukrainian crisis world.  The State should begin to plan now for the additional tax measures necessary, over the long-term, to finance universal services and income supports for all the people in Ireland. 

The brief concludes “If it is best practice to provide immediate supports for Ukrainians fleeing conflict, then it is best practice for others in similar situations, such as we have seen in Syria and Afghanistan in the recent past. This should provide the blueprint for Ireland’s asylum policy.”

Membership of the Roundtable

  • Anthony Kelly, SMA
  • Colette Bennett, Social Justice Ireland
  • David Moriarty, Jesuit Refugee Service
  • Dr. Dug Cubie, UCC
  • Gerry Forde, SMA Justice Office
  • Jo McCarthy, PBVM, Nano Nagle Place
  • John McGeady, OLA Justice Office
  • Karol Balfe, Action Aid
  • Prof. John Barry, Queen’s University Belfast
  • Rory O’Neill, Irish Refugee Council
  • Dr. Seán Healy, Social Justice Ireland
  • Sheila Curran, RSM
  • Victoria Oluwatabi Isa Daniel, PhD Candidate

'Migrations in Our Common Home: Responding with Care - Ireland's response to the Ukrainian crisis' is available to download now.