International protection system under record strain with highest-ever number of occupants

Martinez

The number of people in emergency accommodation and direct provision in Ireland has soared to its highest-ever level, while Ukrainian refugees are starting to be put up in tents as the international protection system comes under record strain.

New figures from the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) show there were 10,463 people in Irish direct provision and emergency accommodation centres on 30 March.

This is a 25 per cent increase since December 2021 and means there are 3,486 more people in the system than this time last year.

The surge is down to a sharp rise in applications following the lifting of Covid-19 travel restrictions and does not include arrivals from Ukraine under temporary protection, a government spokesperson said.

However, more than 6,200 Ukrainian refugees had asked for accommodation help from IPAS as of last Friday.

Accommodation squeeze

IPAS has contracted more than 2,500 hotel rooms specifically for Ukrainians, but many are reportedly being housed in the same hotels and emergency reception centres as asylum seekers.

Around 600 Ukrainians are arriving in Ireland every day with more than 15,000 already in the state.

Anzhelika Samuilova, an immigration lawyer working with Ukrainian arrivals, told Buzz she understands there are no longer any hotel spaces available.

“Refugees are being placed in tents inside sport centres and alternative accommodations that were empty previously,” including the Citywest Convention Centre, Dublin, she said.

Although grateful to be housed and safe, some are living in “very bad” conditions while they wait to be allocated more permanent accommodation, Samuilova added. Photos seen by Buzz show camping-style cot beds packed in tight rows inside tents kitted out with electric heaters and lighting.

A spokesperson for the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) said the Citywest venue hosts a “registration operation” which is “set up to provide basic refreshments and a place to rest before moving on to their hotel accommodation”.



Inside the “registration operation” at Citywest Convention Centre

Surge in asylum applications

Many more people than usual were already applying for protection in Ireland before the invasion of Ukraine.

More than 3,300 people sought asylum in Ireland between 1 October 2021 and 20 February this year, Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman told the Dáil earlier this month.

This “sharp increase” was due to the lifting of travel restrictions into Ireland, he said. Buzz understands Afghans and Syrians may have driven the additional applications.

The system is now nearing its total contracted capacity of 10,902 residents. Complaints of overcrowding in emergency accommodation and direct provision centres were already common.

John Lannon, CEO of refugee charity Doras, said the State’s “speedy response” to the Ukrainian crisis “needs to be replicated for everyone in the international protection system”.

“Many asylum seekers in emergency accommodation are now wondering why they have been left without PPS numbers for months, while others alongside them have been processed quickly,” he told Buzz. “Their right to protection is equal to the rights of Ukrainians, and the state’s responsibility to them doesn’t diminish because of recent events.”

The record numbers in IPAS accommodation will raise questions over government plans to end direct provision by 2024. While the government expects around 2,800 people in the system will apply for a new scheme to regularise long-term undocumented migrants, this is just a fraction of the total.

A DCEDIY spokesperson told Buzz, “The arrivals from Ukraine are entering the State under the EU 2001/55 Temporary Protection Directive and have no relationship to the numbers of arrivals seeking International Protection.

“The number of persons seeking international protection has risen steadily and is more likely associated with the relaxing of Covid travel restrictions.”

Extra efforts

The government is already building a tent camp in Gormanston, Co Meath as a “contingency”, which it said could be needed within weeks to cope with the unprecedented numbers of Ukrainian refugees.

Meanwhile, just 547 of 3,047 vacant properties inspected by the defence forces this week as part of the Irish Red Cross appeal were found to be ready for move-in.

A spokesperson for the Red Cross said it is ramping up efforts to find and vet extra space in shared accommodation or even commercial properties.

While the task of finding housing for all is not easy, Lannon said, “There is a responsibility to ensure that vulnerable people are not abandoned in unsuitable accommodation. A coordinated response is needed across government departments to ensure that all aspects of service provision meet proper standards.”

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