There has been a significant drop in the number of international protection applicants arriving in Ireland in recent weeks, raising hopes among officials of an easing of the asylum seeker accommodation crisis.
Just under 190 people arrived in Ireland seeking asylum last week, down 40 per cent since mid-November and 48 per cent since the first week of this year when the volume of new applications forced the Government to close the Citywest transit hub to new arrivals.
Although still high, particularly when compared with pre-2022 figures, the number of new international protection applicants has been dropping consistently for the last eight weeks. Over the last month, the number of new arrivals has been below the average of 261 weekly arrivals seen in 2022, according to data provided by the Department of Justice.
Government officials responsible for processing and accommodating asylum seekers are cautiously optimistic that the numbers may signal a reprieve in the accommodation crisis which has seen the Department of Integration scrambling to find housing for migrants at very short notice. However, they warned bed shortages are set to continue for the foreseeable future.
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A record 13,615 people sought international protection in 2022, leading to new arrivals having to sleep in substandard accommodation and sometimes in tents or on the streets.
There has been a wave of anti-immigration protests and occasional violence or intimidation amid Government efforts to find accommodation at short notice.
Figures from the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) also show a steady decline in new arrivals seeking housing. There were 172 new applications for IPAS services in the week ending February 19th, down from 350 a week at the start of the year. But IPAS remains under severe strain. It is currently housing 19,874 asylum seekers, including 4,139 children, in 172 locations around the country. This is a 90 per cent increase in a year and a 266 per cent increase since 2018.
Just over 100 asylum seekers are currently sleeping in tents, according to the latest figures available.
It is too early to say what has caused the recent drop-off or if it will continue, sources said. Officials said it may be due to a number of complex factors, including changes in global migration patterns.
Recent comments from Irish Government leaders promising increased monitoring for people entering the country with no travel documents and the speeding up of asylum applications from so-called safe countries may have also played a limited role, they said.
The Department of Integration referred queries to the Department of Justice, which declined to comment on the trend.
One justice official pointed to a drop-off in new international protection applicants in August last year after the Government announced Ireland’s withdrawal from a European Union programme allowing people with refugee status in other countries to come here without a visa. However, a few weeks later numbers soon started to rise again. “It’s really not clear what effect Government comments or policies have on the figures. It’s not something you can really measure,” they said.
There has also been a less dramatic drop-off in arrivals of Ukrainian refugees who are automatically granted temporary protection status.
Last week 710 Ukrainian refugees arrived in Ireland, down from 1,273 in mid-December. However these figures tend to fluctuate significantly from week to week. More than 58,940 Ukrainians have sought accommodation from the State since the war began a year ago.