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Angie Gough, who helped set up Helping Irish Hosts, to match Ukrainian refugees with Irish households, said most people now hosting families through the organisation originally pledged with the Irish Red Cross but got tired waiting for a phone call. Photograph: Darek Delmanowicz/EPA
Media reports that thousands of people are withdrawing pledges of accommodation for Ukrainian refugees paints an inaccurate picture of the steps some have taken to support these families, the co-founder of a hosting support group has said.
Angie Gough, who helped set up Helping Irish Hosts (HIH), to match Ukrainian refugees with Irish households, said most people now hosting families through the organisation originally pledged with the Irish Red Cross (IRC) but got tired waiting for a phone call.
“People see the Red Cross as the official route and they want to do things properly and be vetted so they wait,” she said. “But they’re also seeing people sleeping on GAA sports [hall] floors in their localities. We’re hearing people saying ‘I can’t wait any longer and not do anything.’ In the absence of central co-ordination our group of early hosts joined forces and are doing it successfully.”
A total of 25,300 Irish pledges of accommodation have been made to the IRC since the Russian invasion in late February.
Some 670 people have been housed by representatives working with the Department of Children and Equality in these pledged properties and the IRC has placed an additional 110 people through the pledging system.
HIH has matched around 260 Ukrainian families with Irish households while they say other hosting groups have matched another 70.
A department spokesperson told The Irish Times the matching process took time “to ensure it is done right” and that some pledged properties were unsuitable because of their remote locations away from schools and other amenities.
A total of 27,743 Ukrainians had arrived in Ireland by May 4th. Around 67 per cent of these (18,650) were referred onto the Government’s International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) for housing support.
IPAS says it contracted 13,150 beds in hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs with additional capacity being pursued through hostels, commercial self-catering accommodation, religious properties, local authority facilities and the public pledge system.
Meanwhile, the IRC has sent more than 7,800 properties (a mix of vacant properties and shared properties awaiting Garda vetting) to the department for matching with Ukrainians.
To date, 5,300 people have withdrawn their Red Cross pledges. However, IRC secretary general Liam O’Dwyer emphasised that at least 231 of these have “gone ahead and housed people themselves”. Others may have been willing to offer a room for one month but were not in a position to meet the IRC’s six month criteria, he told The Irish Times.
“We have roughly another 900 people who pledged for one month but we don’t include these in our figures because, in our view, it’s important refugees can settle and build connections with schools and friends.”
The IRC operates the online pledging system but sends details to the department of children once all relevant information is gathered and Garda vetting is completed, said Mr O’Dwyer. The matching process is then carried out by Government contracted partner organisations including local authorities and the Peter McVerry Trust.
The IRC is still trying to reach pledgers who have been uncontactable so far, he added. “When we get someone on the phone, this isn’t a short two minute call. We’re asking people to verify all the information they’ve given and ask questions about the location of their home, how many bedrooms are available, whether there’s a school or shops nearby.”
Hosts can then liaise with their assigned case worker once the match has been made, said Mr O’Dwyer.
Ms Gough said hosts needed to be part of a peer support group and should also have access to a 24 hour crisis line in case anything goes wrong. The proposed €400 monthly payment to assist with hosting costs was also urgently needed, she added. “Nobody is doing this for the money, this is an act of solidarity, but that money is key.”
She added: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We can’t give weapons, we’re a neutral country, but we have responded with generosity. But this not been met adequately by the structures needed to deliver that response. We have a choice now to properly build that gorgeous community response.”
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