DUBLIN — Ireland has run out of space for Ukrainian refugees — and is blaming Britain’s Rwanda policy.
Hundreds of newly arrived refugees from Ukraine slept overnight on air mattresses, foldaway beds or the bare floor at Dublin Airport after the government warned that its nationwide network of emergency accommodation sites was full.
Prime Minister Micheál Martin — whose government has taken pride in its open-door policy for Ukrainians fleeing war and is already sheltering more than 40,000 — said the Irish army would open a tent city Monday at the Gormanston military camp north of Dublin to shelter many of the latest arrivals.
Martin said Ireland’s facilities were overloaded not because of too many Ukrainians, but because of an unexpected surge in asylum-seekers from Africa and the Middle East arriving via Britain. He said the U.K. government’s threat to deport new arrivals to Rwanda in central Africa had spurred many to exploit the Common Travel Area, which for decades has enabled barrier-free movement between the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland.
Martin said Britain’s plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda — which he called “a shocking sort of initiative” — had “motivated people utilizing the Common Travel Area to come into the republic.”
Ireland since March has pulled together a 90-building network specifically for housing Ukrainians, mostly in blanket-booked hotels and student apartment blocks. The system’s anchor is a 1,100-bed welcome facility at the Citywest conference center southwest of Dublin.
However, in recent weeks, most of Citywest’s beds have gone to non-Ukrainians seeking refugee protection, many of whom have arrived by plane or ferry from Britain or by crossing the Northern Ireland border.
Government and charity workers who have been shuttling Ukrainian arrivals from Dublin Airport to Citywest were forced Wednesday night to do U-turns back to the airport, where they scrambled to deploy inflatable mattresses and camping-style beds inside the airport’s original terminal building.
“Some people slept on the floor because there were not enough beds,” said Yehenia Sierova from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, where Russian shelling has intensified in recent days.
Yaroslava Rishina, who had travelled with her children and other relatives from the Russian-seized city of Severodonetsk, said eight of them had squeezed onto two air beds. “It’s OK!” she cheerfully told Irish broadcasters RTÉ.
Britain has yet to deport any asylum seekers to Rwanda following a European Court of Human Rights order blocking the first planned flight in June.
All candidates to succeed Boris Johnson as British prime minister are committed to keeping the policy, and some are citing the European court’s judgment as a reason for Britain to end its membership of the Council of Europe, an international body that Britain co-founded in 1949.
Liam O’Dwyer, general secretary of the Irish Red Cross, said the group was working to place Ukrainians in private homes from a pool of more than 10,000 pledged properties being screened for acceptability.
The state’s Office of Public Works also plans to build 500 modular homes at 20 sites for up to 2,000 Ukrainians.
Gormanston, the Irish military property being transformed into a tent-filled camp for Ukrainians, began life as a World War I training facility for the Royal Flying Corps when Ireland was still part of the U.K.
In the century since, Gormanston has housed Irish Republican Army internees during Ireland’s 1922-23 civil war; Royal Air Force crews who bailed out or crash-landed during World War II when Ireland stayed neutral; and thousands of Irish Catholic refugees from Northern Ireland who fled south following the August 1969 outbreak of sectarian riots in Belfast.