Ireland warmly welcomes Ukrainians fleeing the conflict. Asylum seekers from other parts of the country indicate unequal treatment

“I never dreamed of being able to live in a castle in the future,” she says, still stunned after two months of living in Ballindoley Castle with her children, 5-year-old Illya and 7-year-old Matvey.

Owner Barry Haughian, who bought the castle as a second home in 2016, was inspired to travel to Poland after seeing CNN coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Kozlovskaya, who traveled with Haughian to Ireland, admits that he didn’t fully understand the size of the castle until her arrival.

Great efforts have been made to accommodate the 11 refugees they now call home in Ballindoley Castle. The great Great Hall, once the venue for sumptuous banquets, now serves as a breakfast table for small children.

To the south, in County Cork, 31-year-old Vera Ruban finds herself in a less regal setting. She was one of the first Ukrainian refugees to be placed in Irish government emergency accommodation after hotel rooms ran out. The interpreter from Hostomel, near Kiev, now sleeps on a single bed inside the Green Glens Arena, in an entertainment and horse riding venue in the town of Millstreet.

Although their life situations couldn’t be more different, both women managed to quickly settle down in life in Ireland. The regular nature of the process has sparked questions from asylum seekers fleeing conflict in countries other than Ukraine, who say they have encountered a difficult asylum process that can take years to navigate.

Ireland, an island of just over 5 million people, has welcomed more Ukrainian refugees than many of its larger Western European neighbors. Ukrainian refugees started arriving in early March and more than 30,000 refugees have arrived so far.

Nick Henderson, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council, an NGO that provides services and support to refugees, says the government made a “positive start” by quickly invoking the Temporary Protection Directive, an exceptional measure activated by the European Union that has allowed member states to waive the visa requirement for refugees for up to three years.

Until now, Ukrainian refugees have mainly been housed in hotels, B & Bs and volunteer homes. As the tourist season approaches, it looks set to create a shortage of hotel rooms, the Irish government plans to reuse empty vacation homes, convents and student classrooms to accommodate more arrivals.

The government has not indicated how long these facilities will be used to house refugees. Prime Minister Micheál Martin has repeatedly pledged not to limit the number of Ukrainian refugees that Ireland welcomes.

Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin meets Vera Ruban at the Green Glens Arena.

Roderic O’Gorman, the Minister for Childhood, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, told CNN that while it is not “all kinds of standard accommodation we would want”, Ireland is doing his “best to make sure Ukrainians have security here.”

Ruban, who decided to travel to Ireland after learning of the welcome offered to refugees, told CNN that he “had no expectations” in regards to housing.

The arena he now lives in has been divided into a series of living spaces, containing a small kitchen, living area and separate beds.

Most of the arena’s residents, they believe, are “happy to have a roof over their heads.”

“Many people who have come here have left good facilities, a good life and are very shocked … But they don’t complain,” she said.

Children staying at Ballindoley Castle in Galway play freely in the park.

In Galway, Kozlovskaya is thrilled that her children have been able to attend school within five days of arrival and have so far found it “easy” to make new friends.

However, not everyone is satisfied with the Irish government’s response. Ireland’s warm welcome to Ukrainian refugees has reignited a heated debate on the treatment of asylum seekers fleeing other conflicts in places like Afghanistan and Syria.

Over the years, the country has been criticized several times for the way it treats asylum seekers. Under its direct provision system, asylum seekers are housed in temporary housing waiting to find out if they have been granted refugee status. Initially introduced as an emergency measure in 1999 in response to the increase in the number of asylum applications and later formalized in 2020, the reception system has been the subject of controversy over the next two decades.

Asylum seekers have filed numerous complaints about the long processing time of the system, the inadequate accommodation and the violation of fundamental rights including, in particular, the right to work.

It drew criticism from opposition parties, NGOs and most importantly the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which in a 2015 report said that long stays in direct provision prevented asylum seekers from integrating correctly in Irish society.

“Frustrating” system.

Lucky Khaambule is a former asylum seeker who arrived in Ireland from South Africa in 2016. He is all too familiar with the direct supply system, having spent three years sharing a room in a government-run facility in Cork.

“It took me by surprise that I couldn’t do anything. You know, that was the frustrating thing. That I was in the system and suddenly I couldn’t work. I couldn’t study. I couldn’t prepare meals, you And I was just taught to be lazy, sleep and eat, sleep and eat … Every day you hope for something to happen, “he told CNN.

Lucky Khaambule, co-founder of the Asylum Seekers Movement in Ireland, arrived in Ireland from South Africa in 2016.

According to UNHCR, an asylum seeker in Ireland can expect to wait 14 months for an initial decision on asylum status.

Khabule, who co-founded the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), which campaigns for better conditions for asylum seekers, says the government’s response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis has left asylum seekers from other countries feeling “marginalized”.

“As for the treatment of Ukrainians … it has shown that the government has always been able to treat us better,” he said.

According to Khaambule, while asylum seekers have to wait an average of three to four months to get a “blue card” simply by identifying them, Ukrainian refugees have bypassed this step.

“It’s not acceptable that as a state we can provide immediate support to people at an airport when they arrive, (like) PPS numbers, it’s like our Social Security number. But at the same time, there are people who have lived in Dublin for months,” they don’t get the same support, “said Henderson of the Irish Refugee Council.

Similarly, while Ukrainian children were quickly enrolled in Irish schools, children of asylum seekers in emergency housing were delayed in accessing school. A Report 2020 of the Irish Center for Human Rights found that children with direct dependents “are prevented from attending regular school with other non-asylum-seeking children for months and are instead segregated in emergency educational settings that are unregulated and lacking in resources.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told CNN: “In Ireland, all migrant children, including children of international protection seekers, refugees, migrant workers and unaccompanied minors, can access pre-school, primary education. and second tier in a similar way to Irish citizens, until they have reached the age of 18. In Ireland, a school must admit all students who apply if they are not over-enrolled and if places are available. ”

The statement also noted that “schools are not required to verify the residence status of refugees or other applicants seeking a school place”.

Khaambule: ‘We are different, we are treated differently’

Khabule points out that while Ukrainian refugees were allowed to exchange their driving licenses for Irish ones, “asylum seekers were not legally allowed to even drive here” until a recent court ruling.

The war in Ukraine “caught people’s attention,” Henderson said, attempting to explain Ireland’s shift in approach.

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Khabule accuses the government’s response of being fundamentally “racist”, stating that since Ukrainians “are their neighbors, because they look like them, they treat them that way”.

“We are different, we are treated differently,” he said.

CNN has contacted the Irish government for a response to Khambule’s claims. A Justice Department press officer told CNN that Ireland’s action on the Ukrainian refugee crisis is “part of an EU-wide response” and “in line” with its obligations as a member state of the EU. ‘EU.

“Historically, when mass displacements of people have occurred due to violence and conflict in countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, security and shelter for those forced to flee have largely been provided to them by their closest neighbors.” , the press secretary on CNN said.

He said the Justice Department is committed to making decisions on asylum applications “as soon as possible to ensure that those in need of state protection can receive it quickly and start rebuilding their lives.”

The press officer also said that Ireland has “historically provided a range of targeted protection programs to assist people fleeing the conflict”, referencing previous programs in response to the conflict in Syria and Afghanistan.

Ballindoley Castle residents are pictured with members of the local community.

Despite the unequal treatment, Khabule says asylum seekers in Ireland “stand in solidarity with what (Ukrainians) have endured”.

“We don’t want that to happen to anyone. But we are saying, remember, other people from other countries are also fleeing the war. Palestine …, Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Congo,” he said.

Henderson said the government’s response fundamentally created “concern” and raised important issues. “Why are we unable to do everything we have done for Ukrainian refugees and apply it to all asylum seekers?” he asked her.

Although Ireland “is good at emergency response,” he said, the government must now think of a long-term plan to address the wider refugee crisis.

In the grandeur of Ballindoley Castle, Kozlovskaya cannot help but think about the future as well.

Although she hopes the war will be over soon and that she can return to Ukraine, she is now confident that Ireland is “a really good place for our life now”.