REFUGEES Over 100 refugees are currently being housed in the Grand National Hotel in Ballina.
Mixing of war refugees from opposing sides in Ballina hotel ‘concerning’
THE alledged placement of male refugees in a Ballina hotel has been described as ‘concerning’ by local elected representative Cllr Mark Duffy.
Yesterday (Monday), The Mayo News was contacted by an individual who claimed women living in the Great National Hotel in Ballina are ‘terrified’ after a number of men from pro-Russia regions of Ukraine were moved into the hotel.
This development comes as elected representatives from across the county have criticised the manner in which refugee accommodation is being handled by authorities.
The individual, who did not wish to be named, said that male refugees with pro-Russian leanings were treating other Ukrainian refugees with ‘contempt’.
Nearly all men between the age of 18 and 60 have been banned from leaving Ukraine since the outbreak of the Russian invasion in late February.
Thousands of men recently fled Russia after their President Vladimir Putin announced the partial mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of male civilians.
The individual who contacted The Mayo News questioned why pro-Russia men were allowed to travel from Ukraine to receive accommodation in Ireland in violation of Ukraine’s conscription laws.
They compared the situation to housing Protestant women and children from East Belfast alongside single Catholic male refugees from the Bogside in Derry during The Troubles.
“Several groups of Russian-speaking single men from Donbas or Crimea have spoken of how they are using Ireland as a backdoor to get to such countries as Canada, taking the free hotel accommodation and saving their weekly allowance,” the individual claimed.
“Many have spoken of their disgust of Mayo and the accommodation and cannot wait to get to Dublin or indeed further away. They have no intention of staying here.
“While warily not speaking openly of being pro-Putin, they are clearly not supportive of Ukraine’s struggle against the Russian forces, but their demeanour and conversations leaves no doubt of their allegiances,” they added.
“What is worse is that many of the original refugees are terrified of these people living among them and treating them with contempt.”
Cathaoirleach of Ballina Municipal District Cllr Mark Duffy described the alleged conflict between pro-Russian men and other Ukrainian refugees as ‘concerning’.
Describing the situation as ‘extremely complex’, Cllr Duffy called for women and children to be prioritised for accommodation.
“That’s something that’s definitely concerning and needs to be investigated and monitored,” the Independent councillor told The Mayo News.
“The whole message, and the whole reason we have welcomed in Ukrainian refugees, is on a humanitarian message and purpose based on Russian aggression in Ukraine. So the idea of welcoming pro-Russian refugees among Ukrainian ones is not something that sits well with me.”
Cllr Duffy called for the situation to be ‘nipped in the bud’, warning of the potential for ‘polarisation’ between Irish citizens and refugees.
“For the most part, 99 percent of Ukrainian refugees that we have welcomed here are in desperate situations and have been totally bowled over by the welcome that we have afforded them here and afforded them across Europe,” he said.
“But there will be instances where difficulties can be created. This situation that seems to be developing needs to be addressed, especially if you have [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelensky calling on all men not to leave the country, I don’t think it is something that we should support.”
When contacted yesterday (Monday), The Great National Hotel confirmed that a number of men with families had moved into the hotel in the past week.
However, they downplayed concerns about conflict between groups of refugees. Over 100 refugees are currently being housed in the hotel.
“It hasn’t been brought to our attention and we are quite close to the original group and this group, so I don’t know where this is coming from,” said one of the hotel’s managers.
Mayo County Council’s Director of Services for Housing Tom Gilligan said that he was unaware of any issues between groups of refugees in the hotel.
“It’s very important that we show support and solidarity to people having to flee from the war in Ukraine. Here in Mayo we will continue to provide a duty of care and a humanitarian response to this crisis,” he told The Mayo News.
Elsewhere, Mayo TD Alan Dillon said the lack of communication between authorities and communities and local representatives was causing ‘huge difficulties’.
Deputy Dillon echoed the sentiments of county councillors who claimed they were ‘kept in the dark’ regarding the opening of a new refugee accommodation centre at the Breaffy Sports Arena.
The facility, which was formerly used as Mayo’s Covid-19 vaccination centre, is now accommodating roughly 200 people of various nationalities, as well as Ukrainians.
Plans to house Ukrainian refugees in modular housing at an OPW-owned site in Claremorris were recently met with unanimous opposition at a special meeting of Mayo County Council.
Separately, Westport-based county councillor Peter Flynn told The Irish Times that the amount of Ukrainian refugees being accommodated in local hotels was unsustainable.
“We have a winter population of around 6,500 in Westport and in normal circumstances it would take ten years to develop the infrastructure and facilities to cater for such an increase,” he said, referring to forecasts that approximately 1,000 refugees will be living in the town by Christmas.
According to CSO statistics, there were over 1,800 refugees from Ukraine living in Mayo on September 25.
The majority of these people are being accommodated in hotels, B&Bs and guest houses.
The Department Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth had not responded to queries from this newspaper at the time of going to print.