Opinion: it's wrong to claim Irish hospitality has been overstretched and the country can't accommodate more people fleeing persecution

You don't have to look hard on Irish Twitter to find hundreds of tweets complaining Ireland is full and that taking in more refugees would only worsen the situation. One Twitter user, for example, likened the recent surge in refugee numbers to an 'illegal invasion' of the country."

Recent weeks have particularly been challenging as the Irish government and other agencies try to find an alternative accommodation for the refugees and asylum seekers who were housed in university accommodation but are now required to move out as students move in to begin a new semester. This comes amidst reports of emerging disaffection towards refugees and people seeking asylum within communities where accommodation centres are set up.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, Ireland has taken in over 47,000 refugees and international protection applicants from Ukraine, an unprecedented number in Ireland’s refugee history. A barrage of borderline far-right tweets claim wrongfully that Irish hospitality has been overstretched and can no longer accommodate more people fleeing violence and persecution.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Countrywide, Della Kilroy is in Roscommon to learn more about a new harvesting project aimed to help Ukraine refugees feel more at home in Ireland

Is Ireland really full though? A closer look at the numbers points to a different perspective. The real issue is the retrogressive politicisation of the numbers. This has unfortunately misled some into believing that the system has been overwhelmed and, as a result, that the country is swarming with refugees and people seeking international protection, commonly referred to as asylum seekers.

The reality is that Ireland has one of the lowest refugee numbers compared to most western European countries. Due to Ireland's geographical nature - an island a long distance from Ukraine - getting to neighbouring continental Europe is easier.

To get to Ireland, the refugees need to use air transport or sea, both of which are not easily affordable and accessible at times of emergencies and crises. The history of hosting many refugees and international protection applicants (and greater economic and integration prospects) also make some western European countries like Germany, France, Sweden, Spain and Italy preferred locations for people fleeing violence and persecution.

Based on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) operational data on the Ukraine refugee situation, Ireland’s neighbouring countries, such as France, the United Kingdom, Spain, and the Netherlands were hosting at least 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, while EU countries closer to Ukraine like Poland, Hungary, and Romania hosted more than a million refugees.

In relation to refugee situations, the focus should be on humanitarian assistance offered to those in need and not the quantity of refugees. Simply because it is the right thing, both morally and legally, to do. As a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, Ireland has an obligation under international law to welcome and protect refugees and those seeking international protection.

Politicising the numbers of refugees therefore only serves as a distraction from the main issue and is meant to stoke feelings of fear and anxiety among the host societies as was witnessed in 2015 following the arrival of refugees fleeing violence and conflict in the mainly Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, refugees struggle to find accommodation in Ireland

It is also worth noting that the majority of refugees globally are being hosted in developing nations, mostly in the global South and in neighbouring countries (first countries of asylum) closer to conflict zones. These developing countries continue to bear the burden of conflicts by taking responsibility for millions of vulnerable people despite the economic challenges they undergo. By taking in a fair share of the global refugees, Ireland and other European countries in the developed North play a critical role in providing a safe and secure sanctuary.

Finally, as George Santayana said, ‘only the dead have seen the end of war’. As such, we must acknowledge the reality that there will always be conflict and violence which will continue to displace millions out of their homes. The worsening climate change will further exacerbate the situation.

As recognised by the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees, despite not being causes of refugee movements, climate change, environmental degradation and natural disasters interact with the drivers of refugee movement. A 2021 report by the World Bank indicates that at least 200 million people will move within their own countries by 2050, while another report by Sydney-based Institute of Economics and Peace, paints a more dire picture of at least a billion people being displaced from their homes by 2050 due to climate-related ecological disasters and armed conflicts.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's News At One, Government 'reviewing' plans to end direct provision system end of 2024

This century will therefore be defined by displacement. Focusing on numbers will thus deny millions in need of protection, assistance and solutions. It is also an exercise in futility, as the number of refugees and people seeking protection will increase or decrease depending on conflict situations in their home countries.

So, you might ask, do numbers matter in refugee situations? Yes, they do. Better knowledge of numbers informs effective and efficient emergency and humanitarian response in crisis response management. It also helps in planning for and during the care and maintenance phase so that those in need of special attention such as the elderly and children can be accorded the right treatment.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ