On refugees, Government is creating a big problem for itself.

By any stretch of the imagination, the number in the tweet below is extraordinary, and well in keeping with our national self-image as a welcoming people.

But, I wonder, how sustainable or realistic might any of it be?

There is, after all, no guarantee to a swift end to the war in Ukraine. The conflict is fully two weeks old today – and we are already past the time frame which, according to reports, Vladimir Putin’s generals assured him it would all be done and dusted. There might be peace, in time, or there might be an escalation, or, worst of all, there might be a transformation into a long, brutal, and enduring conflict.

In the case of scenario “C”, not many of these refugees will be going home, any time soon. Even in the event of peace, a significant number may no longer have homes to go to, looking at footage from places like Kharkiv and Mariopol.

Which makes you wonder: How soon will the novelty wear off for both the refugees, and the families presently committing to house them? It’s one thing, after all, to open your doors to a Ukrainian family for a few weeks. It’s quite another to do it for six months. Or a year. Or, well, almost indefinitely.

All of which is to simply say that while those Irish families offering assistance are doing a wonderful thing, they are not offering a solution which anybody could reasonably think to be sustainable either for them, or for the families they are offering to host.

Planning for the acceptance of refugees – whether it be 10,000, or 20,000, or 100,000 – needs to be carried out on the assumption that many of these people might be with us for the long term. And some, reasonably enough, will desire to live here permanently. Staying with the McGowans in Roscrea or the O’Flaherty’s in Monivea is a wonderful, generous, short term solution, but in the long term, it just won’t work.

Which poses a question: Do the families offering this accommodation know what they are signing up for, and for how long? Does the Government, or the Red Cross, know? Have they thought much beyond how to get these people here and match them up with a host family?

I ask this not out of any sense that the families involved are making a mistake, but because it is not hard to foresee the political problems for the Government arising down the road. Would it shock anybody to see a Prime Time documentary on the subject airing this November, about the families left to their own devices by the Government, hosting, and financially supporting, refugees with nowhere else to go?

For example: What state supports are to be offered to families who agree to host refugees? Will there be an allowance offered for food, and clothing, and heating, and all the other associated costs? Government, naturally enough, will be unwilling to bureaucratise the whole thing and assume yet another ongoing state payment. And yet, some sort of support structure is likely to be essential.

And what of the refugees themselves? Many of them, after all, will not speak English. Put yourself in your shoes: Fleeing to a foreign country is traumatic enough, and while they will be very grateful to those who host them, it will not always be a comfortable experience to live in a house with a family who do not speak your language. It is sustainable for perhaps a few weeks. After that, normal human tensions will arise. People like their independence for a reason.

So, what is the long term plan? Is there one? As yet, there’s no obvious sign that there is. As always, everybody in Ireland agrees that this is a good idea, and that the people volunteering are heroic. And as always, there’s a dearth of voices asking questions that, you suspect, might become important in a few months.

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