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Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 18 September, 2019
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'Ignored at viewings because they're black or Asian': Dozens of asylum seekers facing homelessness

Clondalkin Towers is set to close in June and many residents are struggling to secure new accommodation.

File photo of Clondalkin Towers.
File photo of Clondalkin Towers.

CONCERNS HAVE BEEN raised about where dozens of asylum seekers will live after the expected closure of Dublin’s biggest Direct Provision (DP) centre this summer.

There are 235 people (10 above the contracted capacity), including 78 children, living at the centre located at the site of the former Clondalkin Towers Hotel in west Dublin. 

Seventy residents already have protected or leave-to-remain status, including 19 refugees, and face having to find private rented accommodation. The remainder are expected to be transferred to other DP centres when Clondalkin Towers closes. 

At the start of October, residents were informed that the centre would close on 3 December as the company running the centre was not renewing its contract. However, a deal was later reached to keep the centre open until June. The company, Fazyard Ltd, has been paid €27.5 million from the State over an 11-year period for operating the centre.

Residents say they are now struggling to source accommodation for various reasons – the housing crisis and increasing rents, some landlords refusing to accept the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), and racism.

On Friday, there were 17 properties listed for rent in Dublin 22 on Daft.ie. Fourteen had two or three bedrooms and the average monthly rent for these houses was €1,740. The most recent Daft report (for Q4 0218) put the average rent in Dublin 22 at €1,500 for a two-bed, €1,745 for a three-bed and €1,904 for a four-bed house. 

A number of residents from the Clondalkin centre told TheJournal.ie they are looking for accommodation but have been unsuccessful to date. Some residents say they have been ignored at house viewings, or denied viewings outright, because of their nationality or skin colour.

A spokesperson for Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, said DP residents face “significant issues” when trying to source alternative accommodation. They said trying to source housing “in the midst of a housing crisis” must be putting added pressure on individuals and families who are unsure where they will go when the Clondalkin centre closes.

The timing of the expected closure is far from ideal. The government has paid over €1.6 million to a private contractor to source emergency accommodation for asylum seekers since September 2018; close to 200 people are living in hotels and B&Bs in the Cavan-Monaghan area.

Meanwhile, hotels in Leitrim and Donegal earmarked as future DP centres have been the subject of suspected arson attacks in recent months.

700 people with protected status 

Almost 6,300 people live in Direct Provision centres across Ireland.

More than 700 of these individuals have been granted protection status or permission to remain in Ireland; over 200 people have refugee status. People with such status have the same entitlement to housing supports as people from Ireland or Europe.

However, many are unable to find privately rented accommodation, meaning they remain in the centres.

The DP system was established in 2000 to house asylum seekers entering the country. It was originally intended to be a temporary measure where people would be housed for a six-month period while their asylum application was processed.

As of this week, 446 people have been living in DP centre for over five years. It can take an extended period for a person to receive a decision about their application and many choose to appeal if they are unsuccessful, further lengthening the process.

Adults and children each receive a weekly allowance of €21.60. This allowance was raised from €19.10 for adults and €15.60 for children in August 2017. There have been numerous calls for the DP system to be reformed or scrapped altogether.

Five of the country’s 38 DP centres are oversubscribed, meaning they house more people than their contracted capacity. However, this figure may not be the same as the maximum capacity of a premises. A spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Equality said this overcapacity may be due to “family configuration reasons”, such as when a baby is born.

The fact the many residents with protected status are unable to find new accommodation also has an impact. Many are forced to stay in the centres, despite having special protection or refugee status which entitles them to housing rights. 

Third centre to close 

The Department of Justice is trying to source an alternative location for a DP centre in the area. The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) has sought expressions of interest from service providers for premises within 40km of Newbridge in Co Kildare, which would cover the Clondalkin area.

A spokesperson for the department said it would be “inappropriate to comment on any prospective tender bid that may be participating in an ongoing public procurement process”. The procurement process is expected to be concluded in the coming weeks.

The centre in Clondalkin is the largest of three centres in the capital (the others are in Dublin 2 and Finglas). Two centres in Dublin city closed last year: the Georgian Court centre on Gardiner Street, which housed 80 people, closed last February; and the centre at Watergate Hall on Usher’s Quay, where 52 people lived, closed in July.

552869_orig File photo of Clondalkin Towers. Source: Donated to the Asylum Archive

The department’s spokesperson said the fact people are staying in DP centres for some time after they receive a protection status or permission to remain “is putting increased pressure on the system”. Under EU regulations, Ireland must accommodate new arrivals who apply for asylum here.

Applicants who have been granted status or a permission to remain – either because their claim for international protection has been accepted or on other discretionary grounds – should no longer be residing in accommodation centres as they have the same housing, social welfare and other rights as everyone else.

“Considerable work is being done by the Department to support residents with status or permission to remain to move out of accommodation centres and to secure long-term accommodation,” the spokesperson noted.

‘Ignored because they’re black or Asian’

One woman who lives at the Clondalkin centre, and is on the residents’ committee, said some residents who are looking for accommodation have experienced racism and discrimination.

“Because they’re black or Asian, landlords won’t talk with them, some go to a viewing and are ignored,” she told us.

Another issue is the fact some landlords refuse to accept the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). The Nasc spokesperson said the organisation is aware of this practice, noting it is “not unique to this context” and “appears to be happening to a lot of people who qualify for HAP”.

Racism and discrimination from landlords is certainly another factor we have heard from residents; we would hear this from all categories of migrants and ethnic minorities that we would work with and it is definitely a problem.

The spokesperson added that there is “a lack of consistency across local authorities in whether those exiting Direct Provision can sign up for social housing and HAP, and this needs to be looked at”.

They said Nasc is particularly concerned about the Clondalkin centre’s expected closure, “given the current capacity issues and the difficulties the Department is experiencing accessing new accommodation”.

When asked about the situation in Clondalkin, a spokesperson for the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) said the prospect of people “having to leave a place where they have been living for several years and built connections and community is very worrying in the absence of further integration supports”.

We would have particular concerns for the disruption it will cause to children and young people in school, those attending university, and those who have secured work in the area.

“If Clondalkin Towers does close, this will be the third Dublin centre to close, making it more difficult for people seeking asylum to access jobs, universities, hospitals, and other services.”

They added that the imminent closure highlights why the State needs to “shift to a new way of accommodating people who seek asylum: from a reactive, managed emergency style system delivered by private actors towards a long-term, planned model delivered by non-profit bodies who are experts in housing and supporting vulnerable people”.

‘People are nervous getting papers, it’s a mad situation’

Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said some residents are actually afraid of getting protected status in the coming months as it could lead to them becoming homeless. 

People are nervous about getting papers, it’s a mad situation. Say the centre closes in the summer, if you get papers four weeks out from that you’re in a really precarious position. It takes months to get a place.

Ó Broin said one woman is due to pay €150 to her son’s school next week for costs associated with the academic year beginning in September. She’s unsure if she should pay as she doesn’t know if they will still live in the area then, but she’s afraid he’ll lose his place if she doesn’t. 

“I can’t tell her what to do, we just don’t know what to say,” Ó Broin stated. He said if the centre does close, “clear commitments” must be given that families with strong connections to Dublin, particularly those with medical needs that can only be catered to in the capital, are rehomed there. 

hallway A hallway in the centre.

He noted that there has been cross-party support for residents in the centre, as well as support from the wider community. “There’s a very strong sense among civil society groups in south Dublin that the Towers centre is part of the community and we want the people to stay.”

Ó Broin said if some or all of the 70 residents who have protected status, which includes many families, can’t find somewhere to live if the centre closes, that would be “a big, big problem for both the families and the local authority”.

“There are around 250 homeless households in south Dublin. If a family presents as homeless today, they’re given a list of hotels. What if [all 70 people] present as homeless on the same day?

“At this moment in time we just don’t know what’s going on. The earlier we know what’s happening the better, but it’s the end of February and we still don’t know,” he said. 

‘Trapped in DP or facing homelessness’

Some residents at the Clondalkin Towers centre said they have received conflicting information about their housing entitlements.

Two families told TheJournal.ie that South Dublin County Council (SDCC) said they are not eligible to apply for social housing as they haven’t lived in Ireland for five years. However, they said the IRC told them a local authority must take into account the three years they have spent here as well as the three years leave-to-remain status they have been granted – a combined total of six years.

A spokesperson for SDCC said all applications for social housing support are assessed in accordance with the Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011. When assessing non-Irish nationals, Circular 41/12 is considered. This states that asylum seekers “are not eligible to be considered for social housing support”.

However, it notes: “If the applicant is a “former asylum seeker”, who has been given “leave to remain” and a Stamp 4, the application may be accepted for assessment regardless of prior length of residence, provided the applicant has a current Stamp 4 in their passport a letter from the Department of Justice giving leave to remain on foot of the applicant’s representations under section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999.”

The IRC stated that people with leave-to-remain status are “not subject to the reckonable residency rule for the purposes of accessing social housing support”. The organisation said it has helped “a large number of people affected by the incorrect application of the relevant rule at local authority level and are continually raising this issue at local authority level and with the Department of Housing”.

The spokesperson said the “erroneous application” of this rule means “people may be trapped in Direct Provision or face homelessness, despite their entitlements to such supports”. “This needs to be immediately addressed as it is, unsurprisingly, causing significant confusion and we are concerned that many people will not be aware of their rights,” they added.

The SDCC spokesperson said residents of Clondalkin Towers are “eligible to make an application for social housing support and each application is individually assessed and the applicant made aware of the decision following assessment”.

“If they are not accepted on the social housing list, they can re-apply in future if their circumstances change,” they stated.

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Órla Ryan

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