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Orla Ni Eili, Clare Immigrant Support Centre co-ordinator. Photograph by John Kelly

Ní Eilí: More Ukrainians in Clare than official numbers suggest

FIGURES released last week show that 2,452 Personal Public Services Numbers (PPSN) have been issued to Ukrainians in Clare, but the numbe of arrivals here may actually be much higher.

Orla Ní Éilí of the Clare Immigrant Support Centre said, “We’re a bit confused by the numbers, they’re based on PPS numbers, which people have to have.

“But we can tell you in the hotels there are around 2,500 people at this stage and out in the community there are a lot more. We would say that Clare has had 10% of arrivals from the word go.”

Should that be the case, then there would be approximately 3,500 Ukrainian refugees in the county.

Ms Ní Éilí said that many people are still coming, with around 26 arriving on one day last week alone.

Clare Immigrant Support Centre has never had to deal with a situation like this, with so many people arriving at one time, she said, while noting that the level of co-ordination of supports at a national level has been somewhat disappointing.

The data published by the CSO shows that in the Ennistymon electoral area there were 1,165 PPSNs issued to Ukrainians.

This figure equates to 7.28% of its population at the 2016 census, and this is a greater proportion than almost every other area in the country.

Indeed the figure for the Ennistymon area is actually greater than for many full counties, and is over twice the number for the whole of Kilkenny city and county.

Another 619 PPSNs were issued to Ukrainians in Ennis, 275 in the Kilrush area, 351 in the Shannon area and 42 in the Killaloe area.

Since the start of the year 529 Ukrainian children have enrolled in Clare schools, which is the fourth highest in the country; two of those with more are Cork and Dublin, which have vastly bigger populations.

The third is Kerry, which has a slightly larger population than Clare, along with slightly more Ukrainian children in its schools.

Ms Ní Eílí said that there has never been as large an arrival of refugees into the county at one time, and that providing support to them has been quite a challenge.

The Russian invasion threw their lives into chaos, and while the refugees may be safe here, they have very little certainty, she feels.

“It’s obviously very tough for a lot of people, it was never what they envisaged for their lives. Some of them are trying to embrace it as an opportunity, but it’s very tough because they also have the backdrop of not knowing how long their accommodation in hotels will last and we can’t reassure them on that.

“There’s that constant backdrop of lack of assurance as to what’s in front of them besides the war, what their circumstances are here.”

Ms Ní Éilí said that great work has been done in several communites around the county, to help ease the transition for the new arrivals. However, in many cases it has been very difficult for the refugees.

“There’s no clarity, people are concerned about how long they’ll be able to stay where they are now, we can’t reassure them on that, we don’t know.

“A lot of the hotels may have made temporary arrangements. Some people have got jobs, the children are in school which is wonderful, they have their holidays now but it was a very settling factor for a lot of people.

“People have started English classes for themselves, they’ll be ceasing for a few weeks soon, so that’s another change coming.”

The invasion of Ukraine began months ago, and people only arriving now have often had particularly horrifying experiences, Ms Ní Éilí added.

“I met another group on Monday, they were just landed, they’re in temporary accommodation in Ennis and have no idea where they’re going to be moved to.

“They were very unsettled, understandably very tense about what’s likely to happen to them.

“The people are worn, some of them would only have got out from the war in the last couple of weeks, they may not have been in other countries as the war was raging, whereas the first lots of people probably got out quite near the beginning. The ones arriving now would have had a different experience.”

One woman she encountered had been afraid to leave her basement because of the fighting right outside.

“She had been in the basement for months, hearing the bombing around her. People are living the experience of war, leaving loved ones behind, leaving everything behind.

“We’ve seen people land who had to walk for days and days and literally bust out of their shoes. Other people landed with three suitcases, it’s that varied.

“Of course up until three months ago they were having ordinary lives with ordinary ambitions, ordinary expectations and what they saw for their futures and the futures of their children. That’s just been wrenched from them.

“It’s a hell of a recalibration to being here, maybe not having the language, having no sense of how this will play out, no idea of when the war will end and how it will end.

“A lot have left family behind, a lot of older people wouldn’t leave, so they may be in terrible circumstances.”

She says that many of the refugees want to make the most of what are undoubtedly terrible circumstances.

“There is great commitment from people to make the most of being here, to contribute to their own community and to the Irish community while they’re here. But it’s against a backdrop of absolute horror.”

Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.