Irish prime minister calls UK's Rwanda scheme for asylum seekers 'shocking' and 'wrong'

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Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin has described Boris Johnson's Rwanda deportation policy as "shocking" and has partly blamed it for Ireland running out of state accommodation for Ukrainian refugees.

New arrivals fleeing the war in Ukraine will be housed in tents on an army base from Monday, after a significant increase in people seeking asylum in Ireland led to the main reception centre at Citywest outside Dublin reaching full capacity.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the accommodation situation was partly due to a recent increase in people coming to Ireland because of the controversial Rwanda scheme.

"We will be analysing this, but something has happened in the last two to three months in terms of the surge within international protection applicants, something has clearly happened," the Taoiseach said.

"Anecdotally or intuitively, one can see, and maybe sense that that policy announcement, which I thought was a wrong policy announcement by the UK, a shocking sort of initiative in my view, to be doing some agreement with Rwanda, clearly may have motivated people utilising the Common Travel Area to come into the Republic - yes, I think it is one of a number of factors."

NGOs working in the area, like the Irish Red Cross, agree that there is strong anecdotal evidence of a knock-on effect from the Home Office policy.

"The logic says there's a knock-on, and we're experiencing that knock-on here", the IRC secretary-general Liam O'Dwyer said.

"Looking across the water", Mr O'Dwyer told Sky News, "the suggestion that people are to be moved to Rwanda, that is having an effect, and it's having an effect of moving or directing people to Ireland who would have gone to other countries".

The Irish Red Cross says the number of people applying for international protection in Ireland has doubled in the first six months of this year compared with 2021, and says the Home Office scheme is partially responsible.

"I think so", said Mr O'Dwyer. "If you look at the logic of it, there's no other reason why the numbers coming into Ireland would double over this short period of time of people seeking asylum."

Sky News asked the Home Office for its reaction to the Irish criticism, but a spokesperson declined to comment.

Critics of the Irish government point to a chronic housing shortage that long pre-dated the Ukrainian crisis as being more relevant to the current situation.

With around 41,000 Ukrainians taken into Ireland visa-free since the Russian invasion, space was already at a premium.

Many Ukrainians have been given temporary accommodation in venues like local sports halls.

We visited one such facility in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, where 55 Ukrainians were sleeping on camp beds, with cubicle-style partitions to offer some privacy.

We spoke to Nadiia Otstavnova, a young refugee who fled to Ireland from Mariupol. She said the Ukrainians were "getting used" to living in a sports hall.

"It's become our second house, and Ireland became our second house. I'm so grateful that we have Irish people helping us.

"It's unusual, an unusual experience to live there [in a sports hall], but we're just happy that we're safe."

The Irish government hopes to utilise disused institutional buildings and modular buildings to house Ukrainian refugees in the coming months.

In the meantime, it says it is working intensively on an interim plan, beginning with the opening of the tent facility at Gormanston army base in Co Meath from Monday.

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