91 Ukrainian children, 59 of whom were unaccompanied, have been brought to Ireland by Mayo based charity ‘Candle of Grace’. The charity, which is based in Enda Kenny’s old school in Castlebar Co. Mayo reportedly put the children on a flight bound for Dublin Airport, where they landed last Tuesday morning.
Candle of Grace, which is run by Belarusian woman Lily Luzan, had failed to inform An Garda Siochana or TUSLA of their plan to bring the 91 minors, who are from the Chernobyl region of Ukraine, to Ireland.
In a report aired on Prime Time last night, Mayo County Council gave assurances that they had been made aware of the plan, although they did not pass on the information to any other state body.
Although Luzan claims to have obtained consent from the children’s parents, the move has raised eyebrows as separating children from their parents is not something that is seen as positive by international aid agencies such as the UNHCR, whose 20 page document of guidelines for unaccompanied minors crossing borders shows that it’s no simple matter.
Speaking on Prime Time, UNHCR spokesperson Jody Clarke criticized the move saying that when children cross borders they are at high risk of “abuse” and “exploitation”.
“The UNHCR always emphasizes the importance of family unity” he said adding, “children are always better protected when they’re with their family”
The UN Refugee Agency released a statement saying that separating children from their families when fleeing conflict should always be a “last resort”.
The plight of unaccompanied minors is made all the more clear by a shocking report released by TUSLA last year after a FOI request, showing that there were 360 incidents of children going missing from State care in 2021 alone.
Almost half of these were in private residential centers. Figures show that the longest period a child was unaccounted for was 3 weeks.
Ironically parents face being reported to TUSLA by schools, who are legally obliged to do so, if a child misses more than 20 days of school.
Ms Luzan justified her actions by expressing concern for the safety of the children saying that military activity from the current Russia-Ukraine conflict could make their home region of Chernobyl, which was the location of the 1986 nuclear disaster, more dangerous. She claimed that shelling could make the region more radioactive.
Amid concerns about where the children will be housed during their stay in Ireland, which according to Luzan will be for 3 months initially, she made an appeal for help while cautioning would-be volunteers by saying,
“We’re not paid money, volunteers (are) not going to be paid money, host families (are) not getting paid money,”if you’re not doing this from the heart stay home,”
It is understood that the children were brought to Ireland accompanied by adult chaperones on a flight from Poland which was subsidized by RyanAir.
In an interview published in the Irish Times Luzan said it was the intention of Candle of Grace to bring a further 100 children to Ireland from Ukraine, although no plan to cater to the needs of the potential new arrivees was given.
Ms Luzan moved to Ireland some years ago with her husband Mikhail and daughter Paulina. She also has an Irish-born son named Nikolai.