Housing crisis

We need inventive thinking about the refugee housing crisis

While those fleeing war in Ukraine said they were grateful for a quiet place to sleep, it was still unsettling to watch them spend the night on the floor of Dublin Airport’s old terminal.

Some 250 refugees, about half of whom were women and children fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, had no other choice as the state ran out of places to house them.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said tented accommodation will open at Gormanston Army Camp in Meath from Monday, while ministers met on Thursday to discuss policies and processes.

The last time Ireland had to deal with an influx of refugees of such magnitude was in the 1970s, when tens of thousands fled violence in the North during the Troubles.

Even then, the greatest influx of people seeking refuge was no more than 10,000. According to a government memo, a total of 9,800 refugees arrived in July and August 1972.

By contrast, since February some 40,678 people fleeing Ukraine have arrived here seeking refuge, including more than 1,400 in the past week.

Currently, 4,250 student accommodations are in use across the country for Ukrainians arriving here. When the students return, this poses another problem.

Heartwarming welcome

Almost without exception, those who arrive here have been well received. It has been heartening to see official Ireland reach out to the victims of war in a way that it failed to do during the Second World War.

Our government’s response, for example, could not contrast more starkly with Britain’s policy of deportation from Rwanda. Its stated aims – to end human trafficking practices and boost Rwanda’s development – have exposed the depth of cynicism at the heart of former Conservative leader Boris Johnson’s government.

But more pressing than that, the measure has now increased the number of people coming here.

The scale of the challenge is daunting but, as Fiona Hurley of the Irish Refugee Council said, what is needed now is a “whole of government” response and a long-term plan.

She also pointed to continued delays in matching Ukrainian refugees with accommodation offers from the public. It needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

It is unacceptable to think that a family will live in a tent when there is an exceptional offer of a room in a family house.

New ways of thinking

This is not to underestimate the logistical and other difficulties ahead but, just as the Covid pandemic has forced us to new ways of thinking, hopefully the war in Europe will do the same.

Perhaps we could even take inspiration from how quickly many people have adapted to working from home.

Those who could afford to put up log cabins in their backyards said they were relatively inexpensive, put together quickly, and of good quality. Could fast-built wooden houses be part of the answer?

Whichever route we take, flippant hashtags such as “Ireland is full” and other comments about the need to tackle our own housing crisis will do nothing to help us.