DUBLIN – Ireland has been forced to close its visa-free open borders to refugees after it ran out of beds for Ukrainian refugees last week.
Ireland has received more than 43,000 refugees since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. However, officials said so many beds are now occupied by refugees from other countries that none are available to Ukrainians fleeing the war.
Since last week, arriving Ukrainians have been forced to sleep on the floor of a vacant Dublin Airport building, but have since moved to a tent village built by the Irish army north of Dublin.
The government said Ireland has taken in twice as many non-Ukrainian refugees since the visa-free rules came into effect.
But while the decision will not apply to refugees coming from the UK, it will stop visa-free travel for refugees coming from 20 other countries, including Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
These countries, together with Ireland, signed the Council of Europe Agreement on the Abolition of Refugee Visas in 1960, which allows refugees seeking refuge in one Signatory Nation to travel to other Signatory Nations for up to three months without a visa.
However, the signatories also have the opportunity to suspend operations. This is the first time Ireland has done so.
“In recent months we have seen the visa exemption provided for in the Council of Europe agreement being exploited,” said Justice Minister Helen McEntee.
Some visiting refugees “enter the state and claim international protection, even though they have already been granted such protection by another European state,” McEntee was quoted as saying by Politico.
McEntee added that next year, non-Ukrainian refugees will be allowed to travel to Ireland only if they have been issued a visa.
Foreign Minister Simon Coveney noted the change in Ireland’s refugee policy and said that the change “will help protect Ukrainians, and those of other nationalities, who are fleeing conflicts, as it will reduce the incidence of abuse of this system.”