The Irish Government has backed a European Union move to grant Ukrainians extraordinary protection, a never-used status to allow refugees to live and work in the bloc as the United Nations describes the exodus as one of the fastest ever seen.
Justice and home affairs ministers are meeting in Brussels to discuss proposals by the European Commission to activate the Temporary Protection Directive, a rule born from the Balkan wars that would offer those fleeing rights to work and access housing and medical care.
“This will allow Ukrainian citizens to come to Ireland, to live, to work, study, to access our health care, to do so for an initial period of one year, but this is something that could be extended potentially, to up to three years,” Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said on arrival at the summit.
“This is a way for us to allow citizens to come. to not have to go through a difficult and lengthy process to get on with their lives while this unimaginable war is happening.”
According to plans currently under discussion, EU countries would take in refugees in proportion to the size of their population, meaning that Ireland would receive about 2 per cent of those who flee Ukraine into the EU.
“Depending on the figure and the number of people that flee that could be anywhere, it could be tens of thousands of people. But the most important thing for us is making sure that our doors are open.”
The United Nations refugee agency has said that one million people have fled Ukraine in the week since the invasion began, which is over 2 per cent of its population of about 44 million people.
The agency has warned that figure could grow to four million as people flee the intensifying bombardment of Ukrainian cities by Russian forces, with crowds of desperate people reaching neighbouring countries like Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
“I have worked in refugee emergencies for almost 40 years, and rarely have I seen an exodus as rapid as this one. Hour by hour, minute by minute, more people are fleeing the terrifying reality of violence,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.
“Unless there is an immediate end to the conflict, millions more are likely to be forced to flee Ukraine.”
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has said that more sanctions will be imposed by the EU in a bid to target the Russian economy and its ability to finance the war on Ukraine.
Speaking to the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk while en route from Estonia to Finland, Mr Donohoe said that measures such as stopping access by the Central Bank of Russia to its foreign reserves were having a “significant” impact on Russia as its stock exchange was closed and the value of the rouble was declining.
“More will be done” and there will be even greater focus on fully implementing the current sanctions, he added.
There was concern in the Baltic countries that in time they too could become the target of Putin and he had been hearing views on what the EU could do. When they looked at what had happened in Georgia and in the Crimea they were “deeply concerned” about the future.
The Baltic countries were looking to Nato for their security but to the EU for economic aspects, he said.
The EU would maintain the sanctions, but would need “deep resilience”, he warned.
Russia invaded Ukraine last week, claiming it was a “special operation” to remove supposed “Nazi” influence in Ukraine and to demilitarise a country in a move that has been condemned by the United Nations.