The number of Ukrainian refugees in Ireland is expected to double by the end of next week, and to double again in April, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil.
He said the government expected the number of refugees to reach 20,000 by the end of this month and 40,000 by the end of next month.
Mr Varadkar gave some details on the government’s preparations for the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees, but warned that the state’s efforts would face constraints.
The government has identified around 500 buildings that could be used to house some of the refugees.
Cabinet was told on Tuesday morning that there would be a meeting with builders on housing, while the Department of Housing was discussing with local authorities what else they could do, and the Office of Public Works and the HSE were looking at state-owned sites. .
Citywest, Millstreet Arena, the National Show Center and land in Gormanstown owned by the Defense Force are also being considered for use, ministers heard.
The Cabinet meeting was followed via Zoom by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who is self-isolating in Washington DC after his positive Covid-19 test last week. He asked Mr. Varadkar to chair the meeting.
In a briefing that followed, Absorption Minister Roderic O’Gorman said around 500 buildings had been identified by local authorities that could house refugees fleeing war in Ukraine.
Mr O’Gorman, whose department is responsible for finding accommodation for those arriving in the country first, said the Department of Housing had asked local authorities for buildings that could be refurbished and renovated.
Mr O’Gorman said that as of Monday evening, 10,147 Ukrainians had arrived in the country and 4,710 of them had applied for and been granted accommodation, mostly in more than 2,000 hotel rooms. Some 8,500 people passed through Dublin Airport and 850 through Rosslare, where a hub is being set up to receive refugees.
Based on the number of people who have fled Ukraine so far – 3.4 million, according to the United Nations – around 68,000 would go to Ireland, the minister said.
He added that there were 22 unaccompanied minors in the country who had fled Ukraine, and that it was a “small but growing” number. He confirmed that screening would be put in place for offers of shared accommodation involving a child or vulnerable adult, with a targeted turnaround time of seven days.
Asked about claims that Ryanair had raised fares for flights from Poland – which the airline denies – Mr O’Gorman said any company taking advantage of the situation would be ‘shameful’ but he had no enough information to say if Ryanair was doing it.
Welfare Minister Heather Humphreys has confirmed that those hosting refugees will not see their social benefits affected.
She said that, for example, a person who receives living allowance alone would not lose their entitlement. However, she said the government had not considered at this stage providing assistance to households hosting refugees with the cost of doing so.
She added that there was hope that many Ukrainians who came here would find jobs and fully integrate into society, noting that the IT sector was where many Ukrainians had skills. She said many businesses have come to her department to offer jobs and housing.
She said 7,326 Ukrainians had received PPS numbers – 88% were women or children, 51% were women, 37% children and 12% were adult men. Nine percent of adults are 66 or older. Among the children, 16% are in toddler or preschool age, 52% are of primary school age and 31% are of secondary school age.
Income support is paid to 5,100 Ukrainians and alimony is paid to 1,838 people.
In a statement released after the cabinet, the government said it had considered “a number of challenges facing the economy, including the impact on households, businesses, agriculture and the rising energy prices”.
Mr O’Gorman said he was considering, with his partner, whether to take refugees into their home. Ms Humphreys said, like Mr O’Gorman, she would think about how best to help the refugees.
Earlier, Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said Ireland could take in up to 200,000 refugees fleeing war in Ukraine,
Mr McConalogue said Ireland had no choice but to ‘reach out to those of our fellow Europeans who are displaced and have nowhere to go’.
“We have to do our best,” Mr McConalogue told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that the task would be difficult.