Asylum seeker accommodation system beyond breaking point
On Friday 19 May 2023, the Minister of State at the Department of Integration, Joe O’Brien TD, called on local authorities to use rest centres, which were set up for Ukrainian refugees, for international protection applicants as well. The move could potentially free up almost 1,200 spaces for people at a time when there are currently 300 international protection applicants on the streets without accommodation.
On the Six One News, Eugene Quinn, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Ireland, National Director, was asked to respond to the Minister’s call. He said: “JRS Ireland would welcome all additional accommodation capacity being brought on stream when we have hundreds of asylum seekers on the street. It would be important local authorities verify the availability of this capacity as soon as possible”.
Furthermore, he stated: “We must acknowledge the extraordinary generosity of the Irish Government and Irish people in welcoming more than 80,000 Ukrainian refugees since the war started last year and record numbers of asylum seekers over the last year. Nevertheless, we must uphold the basic dignity of all people who seek the protection of the Irish State and the most fundamental part of that is the provision of accommodation.”
The rest centres were established by local authorities as emergency response to provide shelter for Ukrainian refugees when procured accommodation capacity was exhausted. Mr Quinn went on: “We are now in an emergency situation with hundreds of asylum seekers not offered accommodation who are as a result homeless and at risk on the streets. I do not see any barriers as to why these rest centres could not be repurposed for people fleeing other conflicts”.
Especially, as the Irish State is in breach with this practice of its international obligations under the EU Receptions Directive, which require a Member State to provide a person seeking protection with material supports and accommodation. Mr Quinn highlighted that “by virtue of having a right to material supports and accommodation under the Reception Directive, asylum seekers cannot access homeless services. Thus, when the Irish State denies a person seeking protection accommodation it knowingly puts them on the street”.
The arrival of 100,000 people seeking protection over the last 15 months has placed unprecedented demands on the State to provide accommodation in the context of a national housing crisis. The generosity of Ireland’s response is even more striking given there are an estimated 250,000 domestic vulnerable people and households with unmet housing need in the country.
Nevertheless, Mr Quinn said: “the accommodation system for asylum seekers has been stretched beyond breaking point. In the past year we have seen people sleeping on floors, on chairs, in tents and in repurposed commercial buildings. I had a family come to a clinic. Five people, a mother and father and three children including two teenagers sleeping in a single room. None of us should be comfortable with this reality.”
In conclusion, he said: “I think any additional available accommodation capacity, such as identified in rest centres, should be brought on as soon as possible for the benefit of asylum seekers on the street. In parallel, a longer-term strategic approach is urgently needed to increase housing supply to address both domestic unmet social housing need and the accommodation needs of persons seeking protection in Ireland.”