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'This is wrong': The misleading claim about a refugee family getting a free house in Westmeath

The rumour has circulated widely online since last month.

LAST WEEK, CLAIMS circulated online that a family from Bangladesh had arrived in Ireland and were immediately given their own three-bedroom apartment in Westmeath.

The claim was shared across social media, where it featured alongside images of official-looking Government documents which apparently contained the family’s details and purported to show how they had just arrived from the UK days beforehand.

Although some questioned how true the claim was, many more who posted about it wondered how the family was accommodated so soon.

They asked why a family who had just arrived from the UK could jump ahead of those already waiting for housing in Ireland, who they suggested weren’t being given the same treatment.

Those questions played into a common anti-immigrant talking point - which often forms the basis of anti-migrant misinformation - that new arrivals in host countries are given preferable treatment to those who already live here.

The sharing of documents (which bore the Government of Ireland’s logo but in which the family’s names were blacked out) seemed to add further legitimacy to the claim.

It was picked up by anti-immigrant activists and local groups here, before being shared on X (formerly Twitter) by Independent Senator Sharon Keogan.

“I received a call from an area in Westmeath where a family travelled from Bangladesh, flew into Belfast Airport last week, travelled down to Dublin to IPAS [the International Protection Accommodation Services] and were given their own front door for a new 3-bed apartment,” she posted on 4 December.

“They had resided in the UK for some time before travelling. This is wrong.”

In order to verify what happened, The Journal contacted Keogan, a local group who first shared the documents online, the Department of Integration (which deals with asylum claims) and asylum experts.

We learned that although the family was housed in an apartment in Westmeath after arriving from the UK, the narrative around how they got there does not fully explain what happened.

Local protest

The Journal first contacted Keogan, who said that she received the information from a local group in Westmeath and provided the contact details for the group. 

The group was established by a number of local residents to oppose the housing of asylum seekers in their village.

The Journal spoke to one of the members involved in the running of the group, who explained that the family in question were the first international protection seekers to arrive at a newly established temporary emergency accommodation centre in their small village on Tuesday 28 November. 

The centre had not previously been used to house international protection seekers.

A briefing document was sent from the Department of Equality and Integration to local TDs in October; details of the temporary accommodation were shared with local residents and posted on the local group’s Facebook page at the time.

The document provided details of the site, its owner and the number of people who would be accommodated there. It also provided details on the wider context of the numbers of people seeking international protection in Ireland. 

According to the document, the building, which contains 12 apartments, would be used to house 98 individuals – all of whom would be families. 

While the 12 apartments are own-door properties, they make up what is known as a temporary accommodation centre. The White Paper to End Direct Provision included an aim to have own-door accommodation – owned by the State – in place by 2024. Although the promise to end Direct Provision has been rolled back, there have been some steps by the government to acquire or rent properties for this purpose. 

On 28 November, the family from Bangladesh – a mother, a father and their two children – arrived at the accommodation at approximately 6.30pm.

It’s understood that they were not met there by the owner of the accommodation or anyone from the International Protection Office to let them in, and the family had no way to enter their accommodation as a result.

A source with knowledge of the case told The Journal that it was a “miscommunication” between the owner of the property and the Department in terms of timings of when the families would be arriving.

“Unfortunately, there wasn’t a person to greet them for a period. And when that came to light, immediately departmental staff went to [the village] to intervene,” the source said.

The local group spokesperson claimed that when they saw the family, they asked them for their documents from the International Protection Office in order to help them.

Locals also rang the gardaí in an effort to assist the family, the spokesperson for the local group said.

She emphasised that she wanted to help the family and that her issue was not with them, but with the Government.

Images of the documents were later posted online – with names redacted – by the group and shared across social media. The Journal has confirmed the documents posted online were legitimate. 

A second family from a different country soon arrived at the accommodation in a taxi and were also met by no officials. 

An individual later arrived to let both families enter, but were prevented from doing so by locals who formed a blockade of the building.

A representative from the Department of Integration also arrived at the scene shortly afterwards and had exchanges with angry protesters.

The events were live-streamed on Facebook.

After several hours, the families were escorted by gardaí into the building, with protesters shouting “traitor” and “absolute shitbag”.

The comments appeared to be directed at the owner of the property, with one woman shouting: “It’s a pity you didn’t build it on your own doorstep”.

The group spokesperson told The Journal that residents protested because they were not in favour of the building being used to accommodate international protection seekers.

She explained that the group are concerned that the local community does not have the services or resources to successfully integrate a large number of new residents.

Following the blockade by locals, the local group shared images of the Bangladeshi family’s documents in a lengthy Facebook post.

One of the first people to re-share the claim was Derek Blighe, an anti-immigrant activist who has previously called for the deportation of asylum seekers and described the Ukraine war as “fake” and designed to encourage migration to countries like Ireland.

“I’m being told that these illegals from Bangladesh spent 25 days in the UK, were housed in brand new apts in [location] on day one in Ireland,” Blighe wrote on the messaging app Telegram the same day, beside an image of the redacted document.

The story was later re-shared by Senator Keogan on 5 December, before being reported by the website Gript and re-shared on other far-right Telegram channels.

International protection

The Journal asked the Department of Integration whether the family had been given their own three-bed apartment immediately after arriving in Ireland.

An official response said that the Department was “not in a position to comment on individual cases”.

However, they also noted that International Protection applicants are accommodated in IPAS centres and that IPAS has “contracted a significant amount of private accommodation” due to a shortfall in available accommodation.

“It is important to note that all people seeking refuge in Ireland are entitled to privacy. Persons that make an application are doing so on the basis that they are being persecuted or discriminated in their country of origin,” a statement read.

“They may therefore have good reasons not to attract the attention of the diplomatic or security services in the country of their nationality.”

This point was echoed by John Lannon, chief executive of the charity Doras which works to protect the rights of people from a migrant background in Ireland.

“It is important to remember that anyone can apply for international protection (asylum) in Ireland,” Lannon said.

“The International Protection Act 2015 says that anyone who is at the frontier of the State or who is in the State, whether lawfully or unlawfully, may make an application for international protection.

“The application can be made at the border of the country, say at one of the airports or ports, or it can be made at the International Protection Office.” 

He added that while a person’s application for international protection is being assessed, the State must provide for the person’s basic needs, as covered by the EU’s Reception Conditions Directive.

The length of time accommodation is provided can vary and depends on the nature of the claim.

According to the Department of Justice, the average time for an asylum application to be processed is currently 18 months.  

If an individual or a family are successful in receiving asylum they then have the entitlements and obligations of any Irish resident and can access the same housing supports as any Irish person can. 

Accommodation is not withdrawn immediately, but those granted protection are required to transition out of the accommodation initially provided by the State. 

Asked about the case, a departmental source said that for families with children – as in this case – the Government’s priority is to direct them to accommodation that is suitable.

Children seeking international protection cannot be accommodated with adults that are not their parents or guardians for child protection reasons.

The source also said the family had not been given their own apartment to keep – instead, the family in question has an apartment for their own use while their international protection application is being determined.


The Journal initially contacted Senator Keogan after she posted about the case on X to ask her to verify her claim. She said: “I do not spread fake news”. 

We contacted her again after we spoke to the Department and asked whether she would clarify her position.

She maintained that she had an ongoing concern about Ireland’s immigration policy and claimed it was easy “for people to manipulate the system as it is currently”. 

“You’ve got somebody flying in from Belfast, traveling down to Dublin and being offered a three-bedroom apartment within the space of the same day, when they are [...] entering the country and not upholding the Dublin Convention,” she said.

The Dublin Convention refers to EU law on the rules about which country should assess an application for international protection – however, it does not automatically mean that a person seeking asylum has to do so in the first state they arrive in.

The Dublin Convention was also invoked by Blighe when he talked about the case in a video in which he said that a person claiming asylum must do so in the first safe country they come to.

“They’re the UK’s problem, not Ireland’s,” Blighe said. 

However, John Lannon of Doras disputes this.

“There is no obligation on a person to apply in the first country they enter,” he said.

When a person applies for international protection they are asked about their history as part of the application.

If they have applied for international protection in another country signed up to the Dublin Convention, or if the International Protection Office decides that another country should be responsible for their application, they could be transferred to that country.

It applies to all the countries in the EU, plus Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Liechtenstein.

The United Kingdom decided to leave the Dublin system at the end of 2020 as part of Brexit. 

Ultimately, the case is of the state providing a family seeking asylum with accommodation as they are required to do by law. 

“While they’re here, we are legally – and morally – obliged to provide accommodation. They could be moved out of it at a moment’s notice,” the departmental source said.

They added that suggestions the family owned the apartment were “absolutely, completely untrue” and something that “has never happened in the history of the state”.