ASYLUM SEEKERS ARE sleeping on the streets of Dublin without tents or sleeping bags as charities struggle to fill the gaps during an acute accommodation shortage.
Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman said in December that his department would work with homeless drop-in services to provide asylum seekers with tents and sleeping bags as accommodation ran out.
Now, according to people that Noteworthy has spoken to, those seeking asylum do not even have access to those basic supplies that the State is legally obliged to provide.
There are currently 612 asylum seekers – also known as international protection applicants – awaiting accommodation, according to the latest figures from the Department of Children, Equalities, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) published on Friday.
Last week, as temperatures hovered around zero, a young man from Bangladesh became one of them. At the International Protection Office (IPO) he thought he would be given a place to stay, only to be told there was no accommodation available for him and that he should come back early this week.
All he was given was an A4 flyer, seen by Noteworthy, informing him that there is an “acute accommodation shortage for International Protection applicants”. This directed him to four homeless charities and listed their opening hours and services, but highlighted that none of them offer accommodation.
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A handwritten note on the flyer told him to check his Gmail for two Dunnes Stores vouchers – which he told Noteworthy he hasn’t received.
As Storm Isha swept through, he spent the last three nights sleeping on the street with a group of four other asylum seekers. “I have some clothes and I sleep in them,” he told Noteworthy.
We sleep for a short time and walk for the rest of the time.
He spoke very little English and had no place to go while waiting for his next IPO appointment.
The Department for Justice, which runs the IPO, did not respond to Noteworthy in time for publication.
A spokesperson for the DCEDIY, which runs asylum accommodation, said that Ireland is currently accommodating more than 100,000 people: 74,000 Ukrainians and 26,000 other international protection applicants.
“Unfortunately, despite the tireless efforts of the Department, there is currently an accommodation shortfall, particularly with respect to single adult males,” said the spokesperson. “In circumstances where the State temporarily runs out of accommodation, [it] can exceptionally offer different reception conditions.”
This includes increasing the Daily Expense Allowance and providing an initial voucher of €100.
The asylum seeker from Bangladesh told Noteworthy that he had not received this voucher but would ask for it at his next meeting.
The spokesperson added that there is a triage system in place between three homeless services and the DCEDIY whereby those services can identify vulnerable asylum seekers and flag them to the Department for priority accommodation.
They also said they have agreements with three charities to provide drop-in services including “hot showers, meals and laundry services” seven days a week. “They also provide tents and sleeping bags, where required,” said the spokesperson.
Charities ‘bursting at the seams’
One of the charities on the IPO flyer – but which doesn’t have an agreement with DCEDIY – is the Lighthouse, a homeless cafe on Pearse Street operated by Tiglin.
That’s where Noteworthy first spoke to the Bangladeshi man, and others, on Friday night, eating a hot meal.
Aubrey McCarthy, the founder and chairman of Tiglin has seen increasing numbers of asylum seekers coming straight to him from the IPO offices telling him that they’d “been referred”.
“My heart goes out to them,” said McCarthy. “You’re dealing with people who come from a life of trauma…[now] they’re facing the awfulness of homelessness.”
The flyer detailed the cafe’s opening hours and listed the services offered: hot drinks and sandwiches, clothing, and “information in the form of a social hub”.
“In cold weather, we’re packed to the gills,” he told Noteworthy. The Lighthouse does not provide accommodation but it is the only soup kitchen in Dublin with an indoor seating area. They get no government funding. McCarthy said:
I know the Department has said they will work with us and will try to get us funding, but they haven’t yet.
So the Lighthouse is left struggling, he said, to feed increasing numbers of homeless people – 400 to 500 people some nights – and provide them with clothes, sleeping bags or tents.
A donation of clothes, tracksuits, hats, gloves and sleeping bags from Ballyboden St Enda’s GAA club over the weekend was a lifesaver.
“If you’d asked me last week are we going to be okay this week I would have thought we’d struggle, but now for this week we’re fine.”
“I think none of us are against immigration, but I think it should be kept at a level that the country can manage and the infrastructure can tolerate,” McCarthy said. “We have a legal obligation and, of course, a moral obligation but we are bursting at the seams.”
In the courts
In December, the Irish Human Rights and Equalities Commission (IHREC) took a case to the High Court to “address the State’s failure to provide for the basic needs, including shelter, of people recently arrived in Ireland and seeking asylum”.
It said it had used this power for the “first time since its establishment” because of the “gravity of the situation and the nature of the destitution and risk” faced by asylum seekers without a place to stay.
“Many of these people are extremely vulnerable, isolated, non-English speaking, afraid, financially destitute and unaware of their rights,” the IHREC said.
Noteworthy understands that this case is for mention before the High Court tomorrow.
Before taking its own case in December, the IHREC had joined a similar High Court case involving provisions for an Afghan asylum seeker earlier in the year.
In a High Court ruling in April, Judge Charles Meenan found that Ireland’s failure to provide accommodation or alternative support to asylum seekers has been unlawful under EU law.
“Even though the Minister is making efforts to secure accommodation this does not absolve him of his obligations,” Judge Meenan said. “Clearly, giving the applicant a €28 voucher for Dunnes Stores and the addresses of private charities does not come close to what is required.”
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Updated Jan 22nd, 9:50 PM: An earlier version of this article said that Aubrey McCarthy wasn’t aware that the Lighthouse was on an IPO flyer. Although this is correct, the manager of the homeless cafe was aware and supported the inclusion on the flyer. The article has been updated to reflect that.