CityWest refugee centre to close to new arrivals 'in a matter of days', says O'Gorman

The UN’s refugee agency warned that ‘urgent intervention’ is needed to prevent large numbers of people becoming homeless here.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 19th 2023, 9:30 PM

THE REFUGEE CENTRE at Dublin’s CityWest Hotel will reach capacity and be unable to accept new arrivals in several days, Minister for Children, Equality and Disability, Roderic O’Gorman said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, the minister said:

“This will be the third time that we’ve been in this situation. And I think that there is a risk that this time, the closure will be for a longer period.”

“When we look at the available accommodation, we think this closure will be a longer one. It could be potentially a number of weeks.”

When asked if there could be a return to Ukrainians sleeping at Dublin Airport due to a lack of accommodation, the minister said that facilities were in place but they were not long-term.

The government had “a line of sight” to additional accommodation becoming available in mid-February from hotels and from buildings being converted, O’Gorman stated.

When asked if hotels will still be willing to house refugees during the tourist season, O’Gorman said that his Department had engaged with hotels to renegotiate their accommodation contracts.

“The numbers who clearly indicated ‘no’ at this stage are small but we’re working on very tight margins. So even if a reasonably small number of people don’t recontract with us, that puts us on under pressure.”

Citywest was designed as a reception centre for Ukrainians fleeing war, where arrivals into the country were bused to the complex for processing.

The facility previously closed to new arrivals in October last year after reaching capacity. 

In reaction to the closure of CityWest, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees representative for Ireland said that relying on private accommodation wasn’t a viable option for the future.

Head of Office with UNHCR Ireland, Enda O’Neill, said:

“It has been clear for some time that the Department of Integration’s reliance on privately contracted accommodation could not be maintained beyond an initial emergency response.”

“At the moment, it appears that only an urgent intervention at the most senior level across national and local government will prevent large numbers of people becoming homeless.”

“Only by purchasing or building accommodation, by erecting adequate temporary shelter or prefabricated buildings on state land and by refurbishing suitable vacant buildings can the government hope to meet the anticipated needs for the year ahead,” O’Neill said.

‘Extremely serious’

Speaking on RTÉ’s Drivetime, Irish Refugee Council CEO Nick Henderson said the news is “extremely serious”, and that the closure would be “the most grave and serious moment in Ireland’s history of refugee protection”.

“In effect, it would mean that we cannot accommodate men who seek protection here. Families and single women would be accommodated, we understand. In effect, and let’s be very clear about this, this would mean large-scale homelessness of male protection applicants,” he said.

“It’s more serious than what happened in the autumn because it’s forecast this lack of accommodation and the closure of CityWest transit hub is forecast to take place for several weeks, until the middle of February at least.”

Henderson said the matter must be brought to “the very top of Government” to ensure that the closure does not result in a “mass homelessness crisis”.

“We have legal obligations – Irish law and EU law – to accommodate people, in fair weather or foul, in times of peace and war, and they must be adhered to,” he said.

“We have no doubt that the State is working hard, in particular the Department of Children… but we do believe that there is accommodation capacity available. We don’t think State land, modular building, State buildings themselves have been exhausted.”

He also said that measures must be taken in the meantime to ensure that supports are in place when the centre does close. 

“That’s things like making sure that Dublin homeless services are supported, to check their capacity which is already hugely stressed, to make sure they have additional resources to help the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, and to ensure that individuals are supported.

“So things like making sure they’re tracked, they’re registered, are they able to get their daily expenses allowance? All these things are going to have to take place and be implemented in a very short term.”

Modular housing

Minister O’Gorman also addressed the delay with modular housing delivery earlier today, saying:

“It’s a brand new source of accommodation, we had to make provision in terms of contracting with providers all over Ireland in terms of its delivery. We’re hoping to have the first 200 units available for occupation by Easter.”

These 200 units will contain 800 beds, with the government seeking to provide a second and third phase of modular housing at 200 to 300 units each in the future, he said.

The minister also commended his Department for its work finding housing for 19,000 people in international protection and the 54,000 Ukrainians in the past ten months.

O’Gorman was questioned on the timing of discussions he’d had on expanding Ireland’s visa system to include economic migrants and people fleeing climate change.

“Is this a good time for you as minister to be talking about this?” Brian Dobson asked.

“We need people working in our in our system. There’s shortages of employees across a wide range of areas,” he said.

“On climate change, do I think that’s something that will have to happen in the future? I think it will. I think if your country literally disappears and you have to remember there are countries in the Pacific which are literally disappearing.”

“It is important to say that any action there would have to take place on an international basis. There won’t be Ireland going on its own.

O’Gorman also stated that recent anti-refugee protests across the country were reducing the number of hotels who would take refugees.

“I think it’s clear that there are far right elements among this. And that’s not to say that everybody who’s protesting has that motivation. But if you look online, if you look at the organisations behind these, it is a lot of anonymous accounts retweeting this sort of information.”

“These have an impact. And I know there are providers, certainly on the international protection side, who have withdrawn over the last number of weeks because of the concern and the intimidation that they’ve seen of people living in other international protection accommodation.” 

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