The Irish government has been of the need for “urgent action” to tackle the accommodation crisis but the crisis escalated last week. Accommodation has been suspended for single adult asylum seekers and time limits on support and accommodation is under debate.

In October 2022, ECRE member the Irish Refugee Council released a report calling for “urgent action to address accommodation crisis for people seeking protection in Ireland”. The organisation stated: “We believe that the recommendations made in this report will enable this situation to be managed more effectively. We urge the Government to take a proactive and cooperative approach by upgrading and fully resourcing relevant public services, governmental departments and supporting agencies to ensure that we can meet the increased need”.

 However, by end January 2023 the Irish government announced that due to pressure on the system it could no longer provide shelter for adults seeking international protection (families with children are accommodated). According to the Department of Justice, the number of asylum seekers was 1,142 between 1 and 26 January 2023. The total for 2022 was 13,319 people but with more than 70,000 refugees already in the country – the majority from Ukraine – the situation has reportedly become critical over recent weeks. In comparison, the Czech Republic with a population roughly double of Irelands had more than 480,000 Ukrainian refugees registered by 24 January, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The Ukraine Civil Society Forum (UCSF) has criticised the response from the government for not being fast “nor flexible enough”. The alliance of NGOs notes that: “no systems, monitoring or training” are in place for safeguarding and welfare and that it was “ripe for abuse yet easily fixed”, calling for the appointment of a named senior official “dedicated to leading the response across government”.

On 24 January, the government issued a press release announcing the suspension of entries to the Citywest Transit Hub de facto ending the accommodation of single adult (men and women), newly arrived protection applicants, stating: “Due to the nationwide shortage of available accommodation for IP applicants, particularly single males, the Transit Hub has been providing emergency shelter while applicants wait to be assigned to accommodation. It is no longer possible to provide emergency shelter to IP adults as the Transit Hub has now reached capacity”. In statement to ECRE its member organisation, the Irish Refugee Council, stated: “This is an extremely alarming and unprecedented situation which will likely mean a humanitarian crisis. New protection applicants, men and women, will not be accommodated. It requires immediate attention and coordination. Of additional concern is that it is likely to persist for at least several weeks and that, unlike when this occurred in the past, women will also not be accommodated. We have written to government with concerns and recommendations”. The Irish Refugee Council did various media interviews responding to the crisis. The organisation is not alone in its critique. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has called on Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman to reverse the decision, stating it constitutes a “clear breach” of Ireland’s international obligations. The head of the Irish office of the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Enda O’Neill stated: “In very simple terms, when you can’t provide accommodation to people, there’s no alternative to people living on the streets,” continuing: “That’s something that’s completely unpalatable, I think, to the vast majority of people, and it’s clearly in breach of the legal obligations that are there”. Further, the UN official opined: “I think the danger is that all the coverage in recent weeks and months gives the impression to the general public that we’re experiencing something out of the ordinary that other countries don’t experience, and that we can’t manage,” noting “There’s no reason why we can’t manage it. We have sufficient resources, we have sufficient land. So it’s really it comes down to implementation and appropriate planning and coordination”. According to O’Neill now is the time for the State to build a system to do so adequately. Meanwhile, the situation for asylum seekers is dire. “I have nowhere to go, I’m tired and I’m afraid I will die in the cold,” said  an international protection applicant- who arrived in Ireland on January 26th, from Afghanistan and was told by the International Protection Office (IPO) that there was no accommodation available for him. As of the 31 January, an RTÉ journalist reported that 108 people had not been offered accommodation, 81 subsequently accommodated but 27 were still without accommodation. The Irish Refugee Council have been in contact with at least 15 people who were not offered accommodation and were homeless.

The Cabinet Committee on Ukraine and ministers met on 31 January to discuss shortages in accommodation including for refugees from Ukraine. Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman, stated in an interview on 1 February that “clear asks” will be made to other departments and ministers, he said, “so that no one is left without accommodation”. Other discussions are ongoing between the Department of Children and the Department of Justice to encourage asylum seekers (those resident in IPAS accommodation) with protection status and permission to remain to move on to private rented accommodation. According to a government source this represents a “big problem” as “most of those in the direct-provision centre in Mosney have now been given permission to stay, while around 5,000 people in other direct-provision centres either can’t or won’t leave”. However, the housing crisis means a lack of affordable private rented accommodation. The housing charity ‘The Simon Communities’ reported in January that only 41 properties were available to rent for people reliant on the Housing Assistance Payment (which protection applicants can apply for) last month. According to the Irish Times: “A senior Government source said that in other European Union countries there are time limits on supports, particularly in terms of accommodation. Such measures will now be considered in terms of Ireland’s policy response”. Reportedly such debates “are at an early stage and have not yet been formally tabled between departments”. It remains unclear exactly who would be the target of such policies but they appear to include Ukrainian refugees protected under the TPD.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.