JRS Ireland voices concern

January 18, 2023 in Featured News, News

JRS Ireland has been on national and local media addressing the reintroduction of tents to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers. Their Director, Eugene Quinn, says that the tents “do not meet the ‘basic needs’ requirement as set out under the Reception Directive and that they fall below the minimum standards required for a person to live with dignity”. JRS Ireland are calling for minimum accommodation standards to enable Asylum Seekers live with dignity.

“Central to the Christmas story is Mary and Joseph’s increasingly desperate search for appropriate accommodation and shelter,” notes Eugene Quinn, adding,” The Holy Family’s experience of ‘no room at the inn’ has been shared by vulnerable forced migrants, refugees and local homeless people. Despite a national housing crisis, Ireland welcomed record numbers of people fleeing conflict in Ukraine and persecution and violence in other countries during 2022.”

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Ireland, National Director, says that the extraordinary generosity of the Irish Government and Irish people in offering protection to 71,000 Ukrainian refugees and more than 13,000 people seeking protection from other countries must be acknowledged. A welcome has been extended persons fleeing conflict in communities, towns and cities the length and breadth of the country.

“While recognising the unprecedented challenges and pressures this has place on the Ireland housing system,” he says, “JRS Ireland is calling for minimum standards in all accommodation offered to persons seeking the protection of the Irish state that ensure ‘basic needs’ are met and the safety of each resident, especially children and vulnerable persons, and that enable every applicant to live with basic dignity.”

Referencing the projected shortfall of 14,000 accommodation spaces, Eugene Quinn said that the
New Year brought stark news with the release under the Freedom of Information Act of a briefing document, prepared for the new Minister of State for Integration Joe O’Brien in December 22, predicting a potential shortfall of more than 14,000 accommodation places for refugees and asylum seekers by the end of March 2023.

Speaking on RTÉ’ radio’s News at One programme on 4 January 2023, Eugene Quinn said the projected shortfall of 8,000 places for Ukrainian refugees and 6000 for international protection applicants was “of huge concern”. Furthermore, he said it was good that the projections were in the public domain as it was important to “understand the scale of the need and to try and respond to it accordingly”.

“A quick look at the numbers shows that in first quarter we expect about 15,000 people to arrive from Ukraine and almost 5,000 to arrive from other countries fleeing persecution. That amounts to almost 20,000 new arrivals and if there’s a shortfall of 14,000 places, that is of huge concern” Mr Quinn said.

He also noted the briefing document had described the present model of accommodation provision model” as “unsustainable”. A significant risk is that hotels and other serviced accommodation will ‘pivot’ back to tourism at the end of the first quarter. Furthermore, the briefing document stated that “without significant acceleration in cross-governmental efforts … it is inevitable that there will be shortages of available accommodation”. All this is of serious concern to JRS Ireland.

Tents in Knockalisheen
In sub-zero and freezing winter temperatures there was huge concern nationally for 104 men residing in tents in Knockalisheen. On 10 December, Eugene Quinn speaking on RTE Radio Saturday» with Colm O’Mongáin gave an update about the situation of asylum seekers in tents in the coldest weather conditions experienced in Ireland for four years.

Following public interventions by the President and Taoiseach the next day, all the men in the Knockalisheen tents were offered alternative accommodation. In a follow up interview on RTE Drivetime on 12 December, Mr Quinn welcomed the public commitment by the Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman TD, “we are not going to be using the tents in Knockalisheen again”.

Nevertheless, just after the New Year another group of 88 international protection applicants were transferred into the Knockalisheen tents. Speaking on RTE Drivetime programme on 5 January 2023, Eugene Quinn said it was “very disappointing to see the tents reopened so shortly after they were closed and following commitments made by the Minister that they would not be reopened”.

“It is the position of JRS that tents do not meet the ‘basic needs’ requirement as set out under the Reception Directive and that they fall below the minimum standards required for a person to live with dignity” Mr. Quinn said.

As the freezing wintry conditions returned to the country. Speaking on Saturday with Colm Ó Mongáin on 14 January, Mr. Quinn said that the conditions in the tents are “not acceptable”.

“Tents provides basic shelter from the elements, but are not enough to allow people live with dignity” he said. “It’s not even a roof over their head. We’re deeply disappointed that the tents have been reopened again, and it’s a bitterly cold morning in in Clare today”.

He concluded “Ireland is a first world country and we can and should do better”.

On 18 January Morning Ireland programme, the JRS Ireland National Director gave an update on the living conditions of refugees sleeping in tents in sub-zero conditions.

“There are 88 men staying in 11 tents – eight per tent – with just beds, no furniture, their belongings in bags beside their bed” Mr. Quinn said. “Showers and toilets are outside; food is served in the main centre. There is external heating that flows through the tents”.

The 88 men have not been given any indication of how long they will stay in the tented accommodation. The first group stayed in the tents for three months. He warned the experience of this group was that the negative impacts on physical and mental health and wellbeing increased with the length of time living in the tents

Mr. Quinn reiterated “tents do not meet Ireland’s international obligations” for accommodating asylum seekers.
Deteriorating Living Conditions
JRS Ireland recognises the unprecedented accommodation pressures that IPAS is experiencing in the light of 55,000 Ukrainian refugees and 18,000 international protection applicants availing of state accommodation. A situation exacerbated by a national housing crisis. JRS Ireland also acknowledges the huge work being done by IPAS staff in securing accommodation and improving living conditions where practicable. Yet there have been significant accommodation challenges that cannot be ignored, where international protection applicants’ basic dignity is being denied.

Throughout 2022 the standard of accommodation provided to people fleeing conflict and life-threatening situation deteriorated rapidly. The unprecedented pressure on accommodation resulted in protection applicants sleeping on floors and chairs in CityWest and Red Cow Hotel, people residing in tents in Tralee, Athlone and Knockalisheen, families in repurposed commercial buildings and for a short period some applicants did not receive an offer of accommodation and found themselves on the street.

Recourse to repurposed commercial building is of particular concern to JRS Ireland, especially where it is used to accommodate families. An Irish Times article on 24 December 2022, ‘Refugee groups raise ‘serious concerns’ » over child safety at East Wall centre’, outlined concerns raised following a visit to the East Wall centre on 9 December. JRS Ireland staff met “very distressed and angry families who were distraught at their living conditions” during the visit, “there was a lot of tears, shouting and upset.”

The JRS Ireland National Director highlighted “red line” concerns about East Wall, in a 21 December letter to Minister O’Gorman, including the absence of separate showering facilities for children; cramped cubicles; inadequate laundry and bathroom facilities; a lack of space for children; a lack of natural light and lack of privacy.

Partitions between cubicles Mr. Quinn wrote “are 2.5m high so do not reach the ceilings. There is no possibility of private life in such circumstances with every sound carrying over the floor”. Bunk beds in some cubicles permit persons on upper bunks to look into adjoining cubicles.

“Some of the families had insufficient space in their rooms and their cases and belongings were outside in the hall/walkway between bedrooms. For example, a family of five was (two adults and three children) in two bunk beds (one double, one single)”.

Mr. Quinn acknowledged in the letter the pressure the department is under to source accommodation for asylum seekers, but said there is “an urgent need to move away from the current reactive model of privately sourced temporary accommodation, which has resulted in deteriorating standards of accommodation with each new iteration.