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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
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Emergency accommodation: Over 500 asylum seekers now living in hotels and B and Bs across Ireland

“The current reliance on private contractors is clearly not working,” migrant rights centre Nasc has said.

Hatch Hall in Dublin
Hatch Hall in Dublin

THERE ARE OVER 500 asylum seekers living in emergency accommodation across Ireland, newly released figures from the Department of Justice & Equality show. 

With Ireland’s 39 direct provision centres at capacity, the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) has accommodated people in hotels and B&Bs in Cavan and Monaghan since September. 

The department tendered for more hotels and B&Bs in Dublin, Meath, Louth and Waterford in January. 

Until more permanent centres are opened, emergency beds in commercial premises will be sourced, a department spokesperson has said.

“Demand for accommodation places remains strong,” they added. 

The recent figure follows reports that the official number of homeless people in Ireland living in emergency accommodation has surpassed 10,000 for the first time. 

Campaigners and NGOs have criticised the instability of locating asylum seekers in hotels and B&Bs in remote areas and have raised concerns about the increase of people living in emergency setups. 

In late November, there were 196 asylum seekers living in emergency accommodation. By early February, this figure had risen to 329. 

There are currently 517 people awaiting relocation to more permanent direct provision centres, according to the department. 

Jennifer deWan of migrant rights centre Nasc has said that hotels and B&Bs “should only be being used in absolutely emergency situations”.

“This has now been going on for months, so obviously something must be done to source more appropriate accommodation for people.”

Nick Henderson of the Irish Refugee Council has said his organisation is “deeply concerned” at the increase of people living in emergency accommodation. 

“Around 8% of all people living in direct provision are now in such accommodation,” Henderson has said. “In our experience of helping people in this situation, they are encountering difficulties in accessing basic services that they need access to and are entitled to by law.  

Issues identified by the refugee council through drop-in centres include people having no access to a medical card and no information on how to access GP services, no access or difficulty in accessing a Community Welfare Officer for an exceptional needs payment as well as no information on how to apply for PPS numbers in order to collect the weekly payment.

Issues have also been raised by people living in emergency accommodation about food provided.

“People are also at a particularly vulnerable stage having recently arrived in Ireland,” Henderson has said. “We have raised our concerns and given suggestions to the Department of Justice and will continue to do so.”  

A department spokesperson has said that “there are some instances where services are stretched and it is not always possible to[...]provide everything immediately.”

“However, RIA, working with the HSE, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department of Education and Skills, do everything possible to provide comprehensive services.”

To comply with the EU Reception Conditions Directive, use of emergency accommodation has been necessary since September, the department has said. 

“It is not possible to predict how many people may arrive in any given year seeking international protection.”

‘Alternative solutions’

Since September, the cost to the state of providing emergency accommodation has totalled €4.15 million.   

The department has said that it is currently evaluating proposals made by private contractors to provide more emergency accommodation.

DeWan of Nasc has said the department needs “to be looking to alternative solutions to source accommodation that is suited to the needs of people in the protection process and compliant with their statutory obligations under the [EU Directive].

“The current reliance on private contractors is clearly not working and not providing the flexibility the government needs.”

Henderson of the refugee council has said greater attention and resources should also be given to reducing the processing times for asylum seekers in Ireland. 

RIA planned to accommodate people in more permanent direct provision centres but it has not been possible following recent fires at hotels in Moville, Co Donegal and Rooskey on the Roscommon-Leitrim border.

It was announced last week that the department had cancelled plans to open the Shannon Key West Hotel in Rooskey as a direct provision centre. At the time, the Department of Justice said the decision was due to a leasing issue and not related to suspected arson attacks at the former hotel.

‘Radical re-think’ 

Earlier this month, the department announced that Clondalkin Towers direct provision centre, due to close in June, will remain open until at least 2021.

Three other centres are due to open in line with the ‘Independent Living’ model recommended by 2015′s McMahon report, which made 173 recommendations for Ireland’s asylum system.  

The department aims to open more centres in line with this model throughout 2019 and 2020, according to a spokesperson. 

The Irish Times reported this week, however, that Hatch Hall direct provision centre in Dublin -which currently accommodates over 200 people – is set to be redeveloped into a five-star hotel. 

Green Party justice spokesperson Councillor Roderic O’Gorman has said that the possible closure of Hatch Hall demonstrates the need “for a radical re-think on how we treat asylum applicants as they wait for a determination of their cases here in Ireland”.

“If Hatch Hall closes, it will leave only one direct provision centre – the Clondalkin Towers Hotel – open in Dublin… Soon, all persons who are in direct provision in Dublin may be forced out of the city.”  

A spokesperson for Red Carnation has said that “at present the company is not in a position to provide comment.”

A spokesperson for the department has said that the contract for Hatch Hall is in place until January 2020 and that the department has “not been formally notified of any intention by the contractor to terminate the contract earlier than this date”.

“In the event that an attempt is made to terminate the contract before its expiry date, the Department will take all appropriate steps including seeking to re-accommodate those still in the protection process within RIA’s accommodation portfolio and by providing residents with status or permission to remain with assistance to move on from accommodation.”

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