So far this year 64,000 Ukrainian refugees and people seeking international protection have arrived in Ireland.
The numbers are unprecedented.
To accommodate them, the Government has turned to the private sector, mostly using hotels. In fact, one-in-seven hotels across the country is now being used to accommodate Ukrainian refugees and asylum seekers – 118 of the 835 hotels registered with Fáilte Ireland.
These figures raise many questions. Why are so many people coming to Ireland this year to seek international protection and where are they coming from?
When compared to last year, there has been an 800% increase in people seeking international protection.
Firstly, the Covid-19 pandemic obviously stopped international travel for a prolonged period, and there has been a higher demand for international protection since travel restrictions resumed.
Secondly, the war in Ukraine has also had an impact. Some EU countries, for example, Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic have taken in hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees, which has left them with a reduced capacity to support asylum seekers.
As for what countries people are coming from, 21% of asylum seekers coming here this year have come from Georgia (2,059), while around 13% have come from Somalia (1315) and 11% have arrived from Algeria (1101).
I spoke to the Taoiseach about the numbers earlier this week and he told me they are reflective of a “very disturbed world”.
It is also important to note that, when people flee to Ireland, they do not do so by choice; they are seeking protection in a country that upholds human rights.
Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) told me that proportionately, Ireland is not taking in any more than other European countries.
However, 40% of people who arrived in Dublin Airport this year seeking international protection did not have any travel documents, suggesting some are destroying their travel documents or passports before reaching immigration.
If these people were genuine asylum seekers, why would they do this? It raises so many questions.
One-in-seven Irish hotels is now being used to house refugees and asylum seekers, according to new figures released to Newstalk. Minister @rodericogorman spoke to @BarryWhyte85 about these numbers. pic.twitter.com/Rk6SN1L2fi
— NewstalkFM (@NewstalkFM) October 6, 2022
As for the hotels, how many will be too many? Almost 15% of the country’s hotels are currently being used and many more hotel owners across the country have been asked if they can make their properties available to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers.
This is having a knock-on effect. In the last few months, hotel prices in Ireland have skyrocketed, while one County Donegal restaurant owner told me he is dreading the winter – as the hotels nearest his business will have no tourists because they are accommodating Ukrainian refugees.
However, if the Government stop using hotels, what’s the solution?
We are in the midst of a housing crisis and the people in power admit that they have been too slow when it comes to building houses.
So, we’re not building enough houses, while around 1500 people are arriving here each week seeking international protection.
It’s simple mathematics to work out what’s coming down the line, the housing crisis is going to be exacerbated.
Also with around 1,000 people (Ukrainian refugees and people seeking international protection) arriving here each week now, what’s the long term plan?
Minister Roderic O’Gorman tells me a cap on numbers entering the country is not an option. pic.twitter.com/UvG19rLDFE
— Barry Whyte (@BarryWhyte85) October 5, 2022
So, what’s the long-term plan? Well, it seems there isn’t one.
I asked the Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman that very question and he told me that Budget 2023 included a €4 billion package for housing.
Meanwhile, the Government plans to build six reception and integration centres (something similar to Mosney) across the country.
However, this proposal was part of the Government’s February 2021 White Paper on Direct Provision, and how many of these centres have been built to date?
Not one brick has been laid.
As for houses being built quickly, let’s not hold our breath on that one.
So, is continuing to use hotels the only option currently?
Well, a lot of people seem to be calling for a cap on the numbers coming into the country.
I spent the day in Celbridge in County Kildare last week (where there’s a hotel accommodating hundreds of asylum seekers) and nearly everyone I spoke to was calling for a cap.
One woman told me: “We don’t have the accommodation, yet we still seem to have an open-door policy. Where does this end? What’s the long-term plan?”
Another local man said: “It’s time for a cap; we have a housing crisis which can only get worse with the numbers coming in. It’s simple mathematics”.
Meanwhile, the Government says a cap is out of the question because we have EU and International obligations.
But it’s hard to see what the end game is here.
If people speak out, they are branded as anti-immigrant. Just last month, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said there was an anti-refugee element that had emerged here.
However, is asking questions now racist or anti-immigrant?
The Government admits it is finding it incredibly difficult to find accommodation, while at the same time it says there won’t be a cap.
This is currently only going one way.
If you keep pouring tea into a full cup, it overflows.