I thank the Senators for inviting me here today to talk about my Department's response to the continuing crisis in Ukraine. Like the Senators, I am gravely concerned by the ongoing situation. I am sure they will all join me in condemning in the strongest possible terms the illegal actions of Russia, whose military strategy at this stage appears to be one designed to cause the maximum suffering for civilians. I am sure they will also join me in extending our hand of welcome to the many Ukrainians who have already arrived, and to those who continue to arrive, in our country seeking safety and shelter.
Since the outset of this war, my Department and I have been focused on providing reception accommodation to Ukrainian refugees in need. Since the outbreak of war and the first Ukrainians fleeing the war arriving in Ireland, the scale of response to this crisis has been unprecedented. As of yesterday evening, 10,414 Ukrainians have come to Ireland. We have established dedicated teams at our airports and ports to meet new arrivals from Ukraine comprising staff from several Departments including the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Health and the Department of Justice and my own Department. Officials from these Departments are ensuring that every person arriving is met and given support as soon as possible. We have specifically prepared reception areas, which include designated spaces for children and adults and quiet spaces.
Each Ukrainian refugee who arrives at Dublin Airport is provided with a permission letter confirming that he or she has been granted temporary protection under the EU directive, which allows for temporary protection for at least one year. This means that Ukrainian nationals fleeing the conflict will be allowed to work and will be given access to health services, accommodation, education for children and other social supports. Details of the new measure have been published on the Department of Justice's Irish immigration website at www.irishimmigration.ie and are available in Ukrainian and Russian at gov.ie/ukraine.
The Department of Social Protection is registering those arriving at Dublin Airport for personal public service numbers, PPSNs, so that they can have quick access to income support. The Department of Social Protection also has a presence at Rosslare Europort and in Cork and Limerick to register those arriving by ferry or through Cork and Shannon airports.
The international protection accommodation service, IPAS, of my Department has temporarily taken responsibility for providing short-term accommodation to Ukrainian refugees. A dedicated Ukraine unit is being established to manage the provision of accommodation and related services to Ukrainian refugees. To date, 4,942 Ukrainian nationals have sought accommodation from IPAS. My officials are continuously working to source further accommodation and supports for Ukrainian arrivals to Ireland through hotel accommodation and various other accommodation solutions. IPAS has contracted over 2,500 hotel rooms, with additional capacity also being pursued through: hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfast accommodation providers; accommodation pledged by the general public; State-owned or private properties which may be suitable for short-term accommodation; religious properties; and local authority facilities.
We have to be very clear about the scale of the accommodation challenge that we, as a country, face. In fairness, all of our EU neighbours are also facing this challenge. While we have been able to accommodate Ukrainian refugees in hotels so far, there is limited capacity within our hospitality sector to provide sufficient accommodation. Work is under way to expand our accommodation capacity, including through the repurposing of large buildings. However, depending on the number of arrivals, it may be necessary to draw on temporary or emergency accommodation options if existing accommodation sources are not available or are insufficient for our needs.
My Department has worked with local authorities, which played a pivotal role in securing short-term accommodation over the St. Patrick's Day weekend when hotel availability was more limited. We have engaged with the County and City Management Association about drawing on emergency accommodation in community centres, if necessary. Dublin City Council provided some emergency accommodation last weekend and we have engaged with convention centres about installing emergency accommodation in those facilities and with the Defence Forces about options if existing capacity was insufficient. I also know and appreciate that many people in Irish society wish to help directly. As has been the case so many times in the past, it is part of our heritage to give. The Irish people are doing this by opening their doors.
The Government has worked with the Irish Red Cross to put in place a national pledge as the mechanism for channelling the offers of accommodation which many members of the public wish to provide. The website through which offers of accommodation can be pledged is available online at registerofpledges.redcross.ie. There has been a remarkable response by the public, with over 20,000 pledges received so far. The Irish Red Cross, the Defence Forces and estate agents and valuers are now beginning to evaluate these pledges and to inspect the properties with a view to making them available quickly to refugees. They are focusing firstly on fully vacant properties, which constitute 20%, or 44,000, of all pledges. The Irish Red Cross and my Department will then begin to match refugees to properties and to support refugees to move into their new homes. The Government, An Garda Síochána, the Irish Red Cross and Tusla have been working together to develop a vetting process for donors of shared accommodation. This is where a room or rooms have been offered to Ukrainian refugees in people's houses.
As children constitute a significant proportion of the Ukrainian refugees currently arriving in Ireland, child protection has to be a priority. For this reason, anyone offering a room or rooms in a shared home will have to be vetted before Ukrainian refugees are matched with them. Senators will appreciate the importance of ensuring the safety of people who may be vulnerable and who are traumatised by the terrible experiences which they have recently undergone.
I thank everyone who has pledged their support. I also thank the Irish Red Cross volunteers and staff who work to facilitate this unprecedented demand. The generosity of the Irish people and of the NGO community continues to be a beacon of hope for people who have lost so much.
One of the most important elements in dealing with a crisis is information. Essential information regarding support and services are available online at gov.ie and on my Department's website. The information is available in English, Ukrainian and Russian. We are working to expand the range of information provided. I recently met with both the Ukrainian and Polish ambassadors and I have committed to keeping the Ukrainian Embassy regularly updated as a crucial information hub for refugees and for the Ukrainian community in Ireland more broadly.
In the wider context, my Department has been working closely with key stakeholders and with the European Commission, other EU agencies and member states. This has helped us to be prepared for the sudden increase in people seeking international protection in the EU. As part of our foreign policy focus and using our seat on the UN Security Council, we have been working to ensure that entity plays its role in ensuring that full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all areas of Ukraine is provided, although we are all aware that this is not currently being facilitated by the Russian military. At the UN Security Council, Ireland has called for unrestricted safe passage for civilians out of areas of military operations and for the delivery of humanitarian supplies including medicine and food to be facilitated.
The targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, the use of prohibited weapons, and indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks are absolutely unacceptable. Russia has a clear obligation to comply fully with international law, in particular international humanitarian law. Ireland has joined 38 other International Criminal Court, ICC, state parties in referring the situation in Ukraine to the ICC to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UN Human Rights Council will undertake a commission of inquiry into violations of human rights in Ukraine.
As the House will know, we have made significant humanitarian aid available. The Taoiseach initially committed €10 million. That was followed by a subsequent €10 million. We have also contributed €11 million to the EU's peace facility package. As the House will know, that Irish aid is non-lethal. Nevertheless it is all vital aid Ukraine and the Ukrainian Government require. I recognise the website of Dóchas, which is the umbrella organisation for Irish NGOs. That may provide a hub for people looking to donate to the ongoing humanitarian relief efforts taking place on the border and in Ukraine itself. People who wish to support those NGOs may do so.
The scale of this humanitarian crisis response is unprecedented for this State, but it is a task we undertake knowing that, by so doing, we are saving lives. As I said in my opening remarks, we are extending a welcome to Ukrainian refugees arriving in Ireland. They are fleeing invasion. We are offering them shelter and safety. We will need help from all sectors of Irish society and from communities across Ireland if we are to respond effectively to the needs of a people who have been deeply wronged and subjected to terrible suffering. We are scaling up our operation. We have to be honest that this will not be perfect from day one and that we will have to work to develop all the various connections required, from travel to transport, education, early years care and access to the job market. There will be hiccups as we develop this system, but we are absolutely committed to doing all we can to assist these people, who are so desperately in need through absolutely no fault of their own. I know Senators of all parties and none will work with the Government and in their communities to assist in this process.