UKRAINE CIVIL SOCIETY FORUM CALLS FOR URGENT ACTION IN RESPONSE TO CRISIS OF REFUGEE ACCOMMODATION AND WELFARE
Addressing Oireachtas members, Forum calls on Government to appoint a National Refugee Response Lead to co-ordinate efforts to house and settle refugees for short-medium term
05 July 2022 – The Ukraine Civil Society Forum (UCSF), has said that the incredible response to the outbreak of war in Ukraine and the arrival of refugees into Ireland from Government, state agencies, NGOs and charities, communities, and families must now be followed by new structures and a national plan to address the growing accommodation crisis that many refugee families with children are experiencing.
Representatives from the UCSF that includes 65 civil society organisations involved in the emergency response and settlement of Ukrainian refugees to Ireland, made the call during an all-party briefing to Oireachtas members in Leinster House today.
UCSF said that the unprecedented arrival and settlement of almost 40,000 people fleeing the war in Ukraine requires new ways to manage the national response.
Paying tribute to the political leadership shown by the Government and the tireless work of civil and public servants across government departments and agencies to date, the Forum said that we now need to move from emergency response mode to planning for the medium term.
In particular UCSF said that there is now huge pressure on accommodation, and that this situation is set to deteriorate further in the coming weeks as short-term options such as hotels and student accommodation are no longer available. The Forum said its member organisations are reporting that families are being moved around the country on short notice from place to place. Some will have moved 3-4 times and that this is very unsettling for children in particular and makes employment impossible. UCSF published a policy paper* setting out four recommendations to improve Ireland’s response now and in the longer term to relieve pressure on accommodation, improve communication and plan for the medium term.
The four recommendations are:
1. Appoint and resource a National Lead to drive planning, coordination and implementation
2. Mandate the Housing Agency to drive development of medium-term accommodation for refugees
3. Establish a Refugee Agency as per White Paper Recommendations on Ending Direct Provision
4. Urgently resource welfare and integration
The UCSF said that Ireland has the capacity and resources to manage the situation right and can learn from how other countries are managing the same levels of refugees. But said that decisions needed to be made faster.
Speaking at the Oireachtas briefing and publication of the policy paper, Emma Lane-Spollen, National Co-ordinator of the Ukraine Civil Society Forum said, “The Forum supports the national coordination of civil society and community responses to inform and shape what needs to be done to help both people who have fled the war in Ukraine to Ireland, and the local communities where they are now are living. The unprecedented arrival and reception of so many people fleeing war requires new ways to manage the national response.
“The Government has done a very good job in managing the initial response and welcoming thousands of Ukrainian families in line with its international obligations. But community groups and civil society organisations have become frustrated with lack of communication and forward planning.
“The appointment of a National Refugee Response Lead to drive implementation, establishing a Co-ordination group between civil society and government, and the appointment of local Directors of Service will address much of the disconnect that currently exists.
“These simple steps will go a long way to ensuring that we can build on the positive initial response and find solutions that work for everyone.”
Anatoliy Prymakov of Ukrainian Action in Ireland (UACT) said “We must urgently focus on solutions that can support normal family life for Ukrainian families who have been forced from their homes and experienced immense trauma in travelling to and settling in Ireland. Hotel living is a short term solution and we recognise that there is no silver bullet. But the government can assist Ukrainian families by resourcing communities and local authorities and working with the private sector to realise every possibility including holiday homes, converting unused buildings, and repurposing office spaces into apartments.”
The CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, Nick Henderson, added, “We are facing an accommodation crisis that will deteriorate further in the weeks and months ahead. There is an urgent need to put in place dedicated leadership and implementation structures to develop and implement medium to long term accommodation solutions along with resourcing public offers of support and refugee welfare and integration.”
“We are very conscious of accommodation challenges that persist across the country particularly given the housing crisis and long-standing issues with how Ireland accommodates people in the international protection system. The Government, therefore, cannot manage this totally new situation by simply doing things the same way it has always done them. We must utilise the expertise of the Housing Agency and mandate it to drive the agenda on accommodation.”
“The Ukrainian crisis has made it ever more urgent to implement the recommendations of the White Paper to End Direct Provision and fast track the decision to establish a Refugee Agency.”
UCSF members John Lannon of Doras in Limerick and Rachel Doyle of Community Work Ireland also called for dedicated resources to support the welfare and integration of refugees especially in communities with high concentrations.
The UCSF is continuing to engage with Government, senior civil servants, members of the Opposition, agencies and local authorities delivering vital services on the ground.
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*A copy of the Ukraine Civil Society Forum policy paper is available here