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High Court

High Court rules failure to provide Afghan asylum seeker with accomodation was 'unlawful'

The Afghan teen was informed there was no accommodation available, and provided with a €28 voucher for Dunnes Stores to buy bedding.

LAST UPDATE | 21 Apr 2023

THE HIGH COURT has ruled that it was unlawful for Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman to fail to provide a teenage Afghan asylum seeker with accommodation.

The teenager left Afghanistan after his father was killed by the Taliban in September 2022 and arrived in Ireland on 7 February of this year.

A day later, he made an application for international protection.

He lacked documents to prove his age and social workers at the International Protection Office (IPO) told him that they did not believe that he was a minor.

He later obtained this documentation which has been presented to the IPO.

The Afghan teen was then informed that there was no accommodation available, and was provided with a €28 voucher for Dunnes Stores to buy bedding.

He was then given the address of the Capuchin Day Centre.

Between 7 February and 28 February, he had to sleep rough and resorted to begging to purchase food.

The High Court was told that on one occasion, a “drunk man threatened the applicant that he had a knife and forced the applicant to give him €5”.

The Afghan asylum seeker was provided with accommodation on 28 February.

Mr Justice Charles Meehan noted “this application is but one of many” and added that “some or all of the ‘many’ have not received the accommodation to which they are entitled”.

It was admitted by Minister O’Gorman that, prior to 28 February, he did “not afford to the applicant the ‘material reception conditions’ which included ‘accommodation/housing’, to which he was entitled under the European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations”.

Minister O’Gorman in his response relied on an affidavit sworn by Paul Fay of the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS).

Fay noted that there are “challenges and obstacles facing the Minister in providing accommodation for persons such as the applicant”, adding that these “accommodation problems have been compounded by those fleeing from the war in Ukraine”.

Up to March of this year, 1,931 persons have applied for international protection, while 69,210 Ukrainian nationals have arrived in the State since late February 2022, 56,235 of whom are currently being provided with accommodation by the Minister.

Fay also outlined that there is a system in place to provide accommodation to persons such as the applicant.

In a written judgement on the case, it was described as a “list system” whereby “accommodation, when it becomes available, is given to the next person at the top of the list”.

The High Court was informed that there are other proceedings wherein applicants have been waiting much longer than three weeks with no offer of accommodation.

In his conclusion, Mr Justice Charles Meehan said the Minister is in “breach of both of his obligations under the Regulations and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, in particular Article 1 thereof”.

Article 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights states that “human dignity is invioable, it must be respected and protected”.

It was also deemed that issuing “one voucher to the value of €28 for Dunnes Stores” and being “directed towards private charities such as the Capuchin Day Centre” does not come “remotely close to what is required by law”.

In his written judgement, Mr Justice Charles Meehan wrote: “Directing persons such as the applicant to private charities to receive supports which the Minister is obliged to give cannot be seen as anything other than completely unacceptable.”

The ruling has been welcomed by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, which joined the case as a “friend of the court” as it raised “important questions about the duty of the State towards International Protection applicants”.

Commenting on the ruling, IHREC Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney said: “We welcome this important ruling from the High Court, not least for this man – whose first experience of seeking protection in our country saw him sleeping in its streets, in some of the coldest months.

“We hope that this judgment serves as a reminder to the State that fulfilling its duty towards International Protection applicants, who are by definition some of the most vulnerable people in our society, is not optional, but obligatory.”

In a statement to The Journal, a Department spokesperson said: “The Department is aware of the High Court ruling today and is considering its content.

“There is no question of a failure or a refusal by the Government or the Minister to act on its responsibilities, however, the State is dealing with a 600% increase in international protection applications since the start of 2021.”

The statement continued: “The State is currently providing accommodation to over 83,000 people, compared with the 7,500 people who were in IPAS accommodation in February 2022. This is accommodation for a population equivalent to Galway City.

“Since the beginning of January 2023, while IPAS has brought almost 5,000 new bed spaces into use, in that time, almost 3,000 beds have been lost as hotels return to tourist trade.

“As such, demand continues to outstrip supply and the Department is finding it increasingly difficult to contract new accommodation, particularly for single males.

“The Department is considering all offers of accommodation. It is utilising office buildings, decommissioned Defence Forces barracks and tents to address the accommodation shortfall.”

As of yesterday, 540 have not been accommodated by IPAS.

Meanwhile, the number of people who were originally not accommodated by IPAS due to the paused entry to Citywest but since offered accommodation stands at 373.

The Department spokesperson then note that “list system” and explained: “There is a system in place to accommodate single male applicants in chronological order from their date of arrival.

“There are certain exceptions made for applicants who are particularly vulnerable.

The spokesperson added: “All women, children and family applicants seeking international protection have been accommodated to date.”

Katie Mannion, a solicitor with the Irish Refugee Council, told RTÉ’s News at One that the ruling has “very important implications” for others in similar situations.

“It really requires the State to immediately take steps to provide accommodation.

“There needs to be an all of government approach to this to find adequate accommodation for people who are arriving in Ireland to seek international protection, to who the State has duties.

“If it is not provided, there’s a clear breach there that has been found by the High Court of all those people’s rights.

“So it’s extremely serious, and the State must take action immediately to address it.”

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