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'Inhuman and degrading': Concerns over tented accommodation for asylum seekers in Athlone

A refugee and asylum seekers support organisation working in the area describe the situation as ‘quite critical’.

Athlone Accommodation Centre in Lissywollen.
Athlone Accommodation Centre in Lissywollen.
Image: Google Maps

OVER 140 ASYLUM seekers are living in tented accommodation in Athlone that is “inhuman and degrading”.

That’s according to New Horizon, which is a refugee and asylum seekers support organisation covering the Athlone area.

The group, which was established over 20 years ago and works with those in Direct Provision sites across the Midlands, said that the tents at the site in Lissywollen are leaking and “exposing residents to cold and wet conditions”.

The Department of Equality and Integration confirmed 146 people were accommodated in tents at the site at Lissywollen, to the east of the town. 

A further 20 were moved from tented to other accommodation in recent weeks. 

New Horizon told The Journal that all of the asylum seekers in tented accommodation in Lissywollen are men. 

Earlier this week, Equality and Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman told an Oireachtas committee that Ireland will stop using tents to house refugees.

Some of the people who were recently relocated to East Wall in Dublin – which has been the scene of protests in recent days over what some local residents say is a lack of consultation on a decision to move refugees and asylum seekers into an abandoned ESB building – had until recently lived in tented accommodation in Lissywollen. 

O’Gorman said there were over 310 people in total living in tented accommodation at sites around the country, adding, “we’re going to cease that use”.

In a statement to The Journal, a Department spokesperson said: “20 International Protection applicants who have been residing in tented accommodation in Athlone have already been moved to alternative accommodation.

“There are currently 146 residents remaining in the tented accommodation. The former residents of the tented accommodation have been moved to various emergency accommodation centres around the country, as have the residents who were in tented accommodation in Tralee.”

Gerry Callaghan, chair of New Horizon, said his organisation has a “very good and long-standing relationship with staff and residents” at the Athlone site.

He said the plan to set up temporary accommodation there had been announced in September due to the crisis in accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers. 

The tents are pitched beside 100 mobile homes accommodating around 300 international protection applicants.

Callaghan said he was “gravely concerned for the safety, health, and welfare of the residents of this tented accommodation”.

While he welcomed news that some of the asylum seekers has been moved from the tented accommodation in Athlone, Callaghan said “you cannot have people in tents at the beginning of December in Ireland”.  

In addition to the cold and wet conditions caused by the leaks, the toilet block is also located around 30 metres from the tented accommodation.

“The decking connecting the sleeping tents to the toilet block is sinking into the muck,” he said. 

“If residents need to use the bathroom facilities at night, they must brave the elements, and the dirt, and risk injury by slipping or tripping on the decking.”

Callaghan told The Journal that there is an “education and social tent”, but that as of last week, it was being used as an isolation ward due to a Covid-19 outbreak.

“People who are isolating have had to be moved into the education room. This is certainly not suitable,” said Callaghan.

A statement from New Horizon added: “We consider the conditions in the tented accommodation to be inhuman and degrading and that these conditions are causing serious hardship to residents.”

Meanwhile, Callaghan emphasised his “appreciation for the staff and the work they are doing in extremely difficult circumstances”.

Callaghan added that the “situation is quite critical at the moment” and that Athlone is one of three areas, including in Johnston Marina in Tralee and Knocklisheen in Co Clare, where tented accommodation is being used.

In a statement to The Journal in response to Callaghan’s claims about the conditions at the Lissywollen site, the Department of Equality said: “The International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) has already accommodated 40 international protection applicants (IPAs) who had been in tented accommodation in Johnston Marina, Tralee.”

The statement added: “IPAS is working with accommodation providers to source alternative accommodation for IPAs who are currently in similar accommodation in Athlone and Knocklisheen and the Department expects to have a similar solution in place shortly.

“Given the significantly increased numbers of arrivals in the context of accommodation shortages, the Department has no option but to consider all offers of accommodation.

“In this sense, the Department has been availing of all offers of accommodation made to it, including the use of office buildings, sports facilities and tented structures, to address the accommodation shortfall.”

However, the Department spokesperson also confirmed that there “is no plan to move any additional IPAs into tented accommodation”.

Meanwhile, new research from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) shows that 6,494 applications for international protection were lodged in Ireland from January to June of this year.

It’s a significant increase when compared to the 2,235 pre-pandemic applications in the first half of 2019.

While a small number of international protection applications were from Ukrainian nationals, the vast majority fleeing Ukraine have applied for temporary protection in Ireland and are not international protection applicants.

The research also identifies that for many of the top nationalities applying for international protection in Ireland (including Somali, Afghan, Ukrainian, Egyptian and Georgian), conditions and conflict in countries of origin are important drivers.

Applications from these nationalities are increasing not only in Ireland, but across Europe.

Commenting on the report to Morning Ireland yesterday, Minister O’Gorman said Ireland needs to “change our infrastructure from one that’s undertaking a short, kind of immediate, term response as it is right now to one that’s able to address this into the future”. 

With additional reporting from Nicky Ryan

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