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Government asks universities to provide 6,000 student beds for Ukrainian refugees

Refugees will be housed in student accommodation from as soon as next month as capacity in hotels has already been reached

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris

Gabija Gataveckaite

The Government is banking on student accommodation to house up to 6,000 Ukrainian refugees during the summer months.

The Sunday World understands that a deal has been reached with universities for 4,500 beds. However, it is hoped that this could be increased to 5,000 or even 6,000 beds.

Newly arriving refugees will be housed in student accommodation from as soon as next month as capacity in hotels has already been reached.

It is understood that state-funded student campus accommodation, as well as private student accommodation, has been block-booked by the Government and will be used to accommodate refugees from as early as next week.

At the start of the war in Ukraine, officials were able to secure 100 or 200 hotels rooms every couple of days. However, it is understood that this figure has fallen to only 20 or 30 hotel rooms now.

Cabinet ministers will be told today that 25,311 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the country, of whom 16,839 are in state-provided accommodation.

Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris previously indicated that 2,000 beds would be used to accommodate refugees during the summer. However, a deal was reached within Government last week to increase this number to 4,500.

A senior Government source said it is hoped this figure will increase to as much as 6,000 which will provide a “good chunk” of accommodation during the summer months as hotel beds run short.

Contracts with hotels vary in lengths, and may be for several weeks’ duration or as much as three to six months.

It comes as Cabinet ministers today will be told that a special cross-government taskforce will look at how vacant properties, which are both state-owned and privately owned, can be converted to house refugees.

The taskforce will also work to activate planning permissions which have been granted, but where building has not yet started.

It is understood that this will include former convents and hospitals around the country.

Some of these options may include the old Dublin Royal Hospital on Baggot Street and St Ita’s Hospital, an old mental health facility in Portrane, north Co Dublin.

Local authorities will also be given more powers to acquire vacant homes to house Ukrainian refugees and homeless people.

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien will today bring plans to Cabinet which will see empty social housing property put back into use for refugees and those on council waiting lists.

Around 6,000 empty social homes were brought back into use over the past two years and it is hoped that the expanded “voids programme” will bring back even more homes.

It is understood that councils will also be given “greater flexibilities” to acquire homes, especially those that can be used to house homeless people, or those with disabilities or people who fall under the Housing First programme, including people with alcohol and substance abuse issues.

A Government source was keen to emphasise that these homes will be used to house homeless people and the “wider market” and not just refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine.

Mr O’Brien may use emergency powers where planning and procurement requirements can be exempted to speed up delivery in emergency situations.

Ministers were warned earlier this month that all accommodation types will be at maximum capacity by this week.

The number of new arrivals is expected to increase again in the coming weeks after their numbers declined in the run-up to Easter.

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