Restrictions on benefits to refugees could place people in ‘vulnerable scenarios’, warns Irish Red Cross

The organisation is concerned that a ‘lowering of the bar’ could force people to make difficult decisions

The Government’s decision to cut welfare rates for an estimated 27,000 Ukrainians could heap further pressure on the direct provision and asylum system, the Irish Red Cross (IRC) has said.

The Coalition agreed on Tuesday to cut welfare rates for those fleeing the war in Ukraine who are in serviced State-provided accommodation like hotels and B&Bs from €232 a week to just €38.80 a week, bringing it in line with the payments given to international protection applicants.

Ukrainians are automatically entitled to work, live and claim benefits within the European Union under the Temporary Protection Directive, which is a separate track to applicants for international protection, who enter the direct provision system while their application is processed.

Niall O’Keeffe, IRC head of international and migration, told The Irish Times the organisation was concerned that a “lowering of the bar” would diminish the attractiveness of residing in the State under the temporary protection directive and drive people from Ukraine to make applications for asylum, which has a pathway to permanent residency if a refugee or similar status is granted.

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“People in direct provision… they have a pathway to permanency, whereas for a Ukrainian, we would have a concern that they would potentially choose to apply for asylum here,” he said. “Before as a [Beneficiary of Temporary Protection], they have slightly better allowances, now if they are going to get the same as someone who makes an IP application, why not just do that?,” he said.

Mr O’Keeffe also warned that putting people under pressure to leave state accommodation could result in them ending up in unsuitable accommodation.

“When people are forced they take decisions that put them in more vulnerable scenarios. That’s our concern, the core of it,” he said. “They will take whatever accommodation is available to them because don’t want to be homeless but might put them in landlord tenant scenario that isn’t appropriate,” he added.

The direct provision and asylum system is already beset by long delays and backlogs, as well as a capacity issue in terms of accommodation. “We don’t have the system to facilitate that, and that would be a crisis in itself,” Mr O’Keeffe said.

He said the IRC shared concerns expressed by the Ukrainian community in Ireland, and the country’s embassy, around vulnerable people’s interests being safeguarded. He said the reforms had not been sufficiently flagged in advance nor had there been a chance for stakeholders to have an input into them.

“I’m not sure anybody really knows the consequences of making this pretty significant change,” he said. He praised the State for its response from a humanitarian perspective, saying it was “great” that food, accommodation and basic needs are being catered for and that Ireland should be “commended for that response”.

However, he said that the IRC was also concerned that the lower level of provision would impact Ukrainians’ ability to save financial resources while in State accommodation that could ultimately enable them to leave and enter the community.

“If the thinking is to get people out to the community and out of state provided accommodation, this allowance was allowing that process to come to a fruition,” he said.

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