By Cate McCurry, PA
The first Ukrainian refugees arrived at Gormanston military camp in Co Meath, where they will stay in tented accommodation.
The first bus carrying the group of refugees arrived at the army camp shortly after 4pm on Tuesday, after their details were processed at the Citywest transit hub.
Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said the camp has a capacity for around 350 people, with a maximum stay of one week.
Some 150 people were to arrive on Tuesday, most of whom were expected to be families.
They will stay in tents for a week, with each tent holding up to 16 people.
The accommodation at the camp includes large military tents, larger marquees for communal areas and a cafeteria.
Mr O’Gorman said only Ukrainians would stay at the camp until different accommodation can be sourced. The Government was forced to use the temporary tents because its existing accommodation reach full capacity last week following a jump in the number of refugees arriving in the country.
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.
This led to Ukrainians sleeping on the floor in an old terminal at Dublin Airport for up to two days.
More than 43,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Ireland since the outbreak of the war in February.
Meanwhile, the agriculture minister described the Government’s decision to tighten refugee visa requirements as “fair and appropriate”.
The Government has put restrictions on its immigration policy as the country deals with a shortage of accommodation.
Visa-free travel will remain available for Ukrainian nationals but refugees travelling from safe European countries will be required to hold visas from Tuesday.
Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said there has been a three-fold increase in applications for international protection from people who already had refugee status in an EU member state.
“I think the key focus on the Government here is to provide shelter and refuge to refugees who are in trouble from across the world, but particularly, of course, those from Ukraine who are fleeing war and fleeing the death and real danger in that country,” Mr McConalogue told RTE Morning Ireland.
“We provided a home to and refuge to 40,000 (people) already from Ukraine.
“What we have seen and what the assessment of the Government was between 2019 and this year, there’s been a three-fold increase in relation to applications from those from Council of Europe countries.”
He said that around 7% of 6,494 applications for international protection during that period came from EU member states.
“I think the step the Government is taking is a fair and appropriate one, because our key focus has to be in relation to providing opportunity for those who haven’t already got refugee status in another European country, to allow them and provide the opportunity to get refugee status here, and particularly to provide shelter and a home to those in Ukraine who are fleeing war,” he added.
“I think the step we have taken yesterday was a fair and appropriate one. Just to be clear, it relates only to those who already have refugee status in another EU country.
“So they already had refugee status, because of course we have to prioritise those that don’t have refugee status anywhere and we have to prioritise those that are coming from Ukraine.
“What it does mean is that anybody who already has refugee status in another country will now have to apply for a visa.
“I think that’s an appropriate and a fair approach.”
On Monday evening, it was announced that the Government has agreed to temporarily suspend the operation of the Council of Europe Agreement on the Abolition of Visas for Refugees (Council of Europe) for 12 months.
It described the temporary measure as a means to protect the integrity of the immigration and international protection systems.
Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said that his party does not oppose the change in rules, but called for the data behind it to be published.
“We said at the outset, and I think there is a collective will in the Oireachtas and from the political system, but I would argue from the Irish people as well, that everything that can be done to take in as many Ukrainian refugees as possible needs to be done,” Mr Cullinane said.
“The Government quoted very high figures, obviously at the start of this process, and nobody disputed that because we all knew it was a very fluid situation and nobody could predict exactly how many will come but we want to be as generous as possible.
“What we said to government is that you have to plan, you have to make sure that we actually have the accommodation space.
“We’ve been saying to government and not just us, but the Irish Refugee Council for example have been making very clear proposals over the last number of months, that we should use holiday homes and enter into one year contracts with the owners of holiday homes to bring as many of them into use as possible to house Ukrainian refugees.
“Even 5 per cent of holiday homes would be 3,500 additional homes that could be used to house refugees, 10 per cent is nearly 7,000.
“So that’s what we want to see the government do to be much more imaginative, to work with all of those stakeholders and to make sure that we have as many properties in place as we possibly can to to help people.”