Monday, July 18, 2022

Sarah Mooney

Air conditioning units will be installed in two communal tents for Ukrainian refugees at Gormanston military camp, with 150 people set to arrive at the facility as Ireland’s heatwave continues on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, which is responsible for housing the refugees, confirmed the move on Monday evening after Ireland provisionally recorded its highest temperature of the 21st century.

Although air conditioning units will not be installed in tents designated for sleeping, the spokesperson said “other measures will be examined to ensure the comfort of those occupying the accommodation” in Co Meath.

“Gormanston will receive people from the Citywest Transit Hub tomorrow,” they said.

“The facilities management company operating out at Gormanston on behalf of the Department is on-site today confirming all necessary preparations are in order.

“The facilities management company has been requested to install air-condition units in the recreation tent and mess tent. Other measures will be examined to ensure the comfort of those occupying the accommodation.”

Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman earlier said the accommodation with capacity for 350 people is “not envisaged to be a long-term facility”, with refugees due to stay for “a maximum of a week” at the facility where up to 16 people will be housed per tent.

‘Disturbing new norm’

However, refugee and migrant support organisation Doras expressed concern that refugees sleeping on floors and in tents in Ireland could signal a “disturbing new norm” if not immediately addressed.

Doras chief executive John Lannon warned refugees arriving in Ireland face “deteriorating conditions”, saying a basic standard of accommodation is “essential when fulfilling our obligations to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

“We’re talking about people who are fleeing for their lives, people who have lived through the horrors of war and are seeking a safe place of rest and sanctuary,” he said.

“While many of those we are working with are grateful for any kind of immediate food and shelter, the reality is that people need and deserve better than sleeping on floors or in tents.

“This is especially the case for people who are traumatised, or who have specific medical needs, and in all situations the safeguarding of children is paramount. This is the case for Ukrainians as it is for people from Afghanistan and others who need protection.”

Winter

With Ireland currently experiencing a heatwave with temperatures topping 30 degrees but autumn just over a month away, Mr Lannon said adequate accommodation is essential.

“The risk here is that tents become a new norm and we can’t allow that especially as we enter the final weeks of summer and face the prospect of a long and cold winter ahead,” he said.

“We’ve known for many months now, back to when the government signalled that up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees might arrive, that measures would need to be put in place. Everybody concerned is working flat out but it’s simply not good enough to say we didn’t see this coming.

“The situation is also compounding the distress felt by people in direct provision, which as we know is already a substandard system of accommodation.”

Mr Lannon noted direct provision was also once a “so-called ‘temporary measure’, established back in 2000 due to a shortage of accommodation,” but has now been in place for 22 years.

He appealed for an “all-out response, as we had with Covid”, to the accommodation shortage facing refugees arriving in Ireland, including the appointment of a national refugee response lead and greater coordination between national and local levels.

Surge in arrivals

The Government has attributed a fresh “surge” in refugees arriving from Ukraine in the last six to eight weeks to an increase in attacks on civilian populations throughout the eastern European country.

It has also said that “a range of changes to migration policy in the United Kingdom and the Rwanda policy” has contributed to a rise in the number of people seeking asylum in Ireland.

It emerged last week that the Citywest welcome centre for Ukrainians had reached capacity, coupled with a shortage of accommodation for other international protection seekers, which led to Ukrainian refugees sleeping on the floor in an old terminal at Dublin Airport for up to two days.

Chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council, Nick Henderson, earlier described the plan to house refugees in tented accommodation as “very concerning” as up to 16 people will be staying in each tent.

He told RTÉ’s Today with Philip Boucher-Hayes that he hopes that a temporary solution does not become long-term accommodation.

“One thing I want to emphasise is that we do think this is a manageable situation with the right policies and procedures in place, but we believe very unfortunately that we’re starting to pay the price of not implementing medium to long-term accommodation options and recommendations that we and others recommended and called for in April and May.

“But it’s a very serious situation, and I’d be particularly concerned that something that is temporary and or is stated to be temporary in nature turns into a longer-term solution.”

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