CORK City Council has said it expects to face “unprecedented challenges” given “the scale of the numbers of Ukrainian refugees expected to arrive in the country in the immediate future”.
At Monday night’s full council meeting, councillors were provided with a report from the chief executive regarding the council’s response to Ukrainian refugees arriving in the city.
In her report, Ann Doherty said the council is participating in the national humanitarian effort to provide “a welcome and suitable shelter and assistance” to people fleeing war-torn Ukraine.
Cork City Council’s Community Response Forum, initially set up as a response to the Covid-19 crisis, has been convened to focus on the Ukrainian response and has met weekly since March 16.
Ms Doherty said the council-led forum, where interagency partners can share their approach on the ground to the rapidly evolving situation, has been important and stated that the forum will be meeting on a weekly basis until further notice.
At the request of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration, and Youth, Ms Doherty said Cork City Council provided details of premises that might be available and suitable to provide emergency rest centre accommodation.
Since March 31 she said three requests have been received from the department requesting Cork City Council to make ready 225 emergency rest beds in total for incoming Ukrainians.
“A cross-directorate steering group was formed to manage the response.
“A number of premises that were immediately available were identified and assessed for suitability from which two locations were selected; arrangements were made, and they were made ready to receive the groups.
“On Saturday night, April 2, 73 Ukrainians arrived and were assigned to the selected accommodation.
“A further group of 68 were assigned to a second location on Saturday, April 9,” she said, adding that the council is currently “on standby” to receive a further 75 Ukrainians from tomorrow.
Ms Doherty stated that the groups who arrived in the city were met and supported by teams from the city council and various other organisations including the HSE, Nasc, Together Razem, and UCC Adult Continuing Education as well as translators, “who engaged with the groups at a number of briefings and on a one-to-one basis”.
Food services were also put in place and access to clothing and essentials was provided with the support of organisations including St Vincent de Paul, Cork Chamber, Red Cross, and the Civil Defence.
“The groups are currently being linked to additional support services to address their needs.
“Local schools have met with parents, sourced uniforms, and have enrolled children as appropriate in line with CETB guidance.
“Given the scale of the numbers of refugees expected to arrive in Ireland in the immediate future, the city council is going to face unprecedented challenges and the council in collaboration with all state agencies and the private sector will be required to put in place dedicated plans to deal with the accommodation of refugees,” the report continued.
Ms Doherty said that discussions are underway with stakeholders to put in place “a more robust and dedicated approach to this essential humanitarian requirement”.
Speaking at the council meeting, she informed councillors that refugees are given a PPS number, medical card, given access to social welfare, and have the right to work when they arrive in Ireland.
She spoke of the trauma of those arriving into the country and asked that the privacy of refugees be respected.
“Behind each of the numbers, there is a person. A child, a mother, or a sister who has left loved ones behind and who is very traumatised.
“I think we’re seeing that more as the time goes on how traumatised people are so confidentiality and privacy for Ukrainian people coming here is of the utmost importance.”
The council’s response to Ukrainian refugees arriving in the city was praised by numerous councillors at the meeting on Monday.
Fianna Fáil councillor John Sheehan praised the collaborative efforts between the various agencies, which he said is “very strong in Cork”.
Mr Sheehan said services will be stretched but added: “The ask of us is small compared to what the refugees have been through.”
Solidarity councillor Fiona Ryan said the “huge out swell of solidarity” shown to the Ukrainian people at all levels has been “really inspiring”.