Some asylum seekers who were provided with emergency beds during snow are back in their tents

Friday evening saw sometimes chaotic scenes in freezing conditions outside the International Protection Office in Dublin

About 160 male asylum seekers, most of whom had slept in tents in sub-zero temperatures on Thursday night, were provided with beds on Friday night as a “cold weather response” by the Department of Children and Integration.

On Saturday morning, however, about 20 were back at their tents, having been told to leave their accommodation shortly before 8am. They said had been taken to a centre near Dublin Airport late on Friday night, provided with sleeping bags but no mattresses. They said they had been given “tea and biscuits” before they left.

“So we are back at IPO [headquarters of the International Protection Office in Dublin city centre] now,” said one man from Pakistan. “We are so tired because we were standing, standing all day yesterday waiting for the buses. We do not understand why they give us bed for just one night. So we are setting up our tents and cleaning the street.”

Men were transported from outside the IPO centre from 7pm on Friday to accommodation in Citywest, the former Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum and the centre near the airport. Two coaches took men to Dundrum, while others travelled mainly in taxis to Citywest and the airport area.

READ MORE

There were sometimes chaotic scenes as the men, many of whom had been waiting outdoors with their belongings from early afternoon in freezing rain and snow, became increasingly anxious as to whether they would get accommodation.

Up to 100 men, some as young as 18, had been sleeping in tents pitched on pavements and laneways around the headquarters in recent weeks, without access to toilets, running water or rubbish collection. Since early December the department’s International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) has said it can no longer offer beds to any but the most vulnerable male asylum seekers as it struggles to source accommodation.

As of Friday, 1,103 were “awaiting offer of accommodation”, according to IPAS. Following calls by the Irish Refugee Council and across social media, the Department said it would provide “temporary shelter over the weekend as a cold weather response”.

From about 4pm on Friday, as the men waited with their bags asking each other what was happening, rumours were circulating that buses were being sent to bring them to hostels. Some said they had put their names on “a list” to qualify for a bed, but they were unsure who had taken their names.

Taxis began arriving around 5pm taking four men at a time to Citywest. It emerged these were men who had presented to make asylum applications on Friday and who were offered accommodation on presentation due to the freezing conditions.

From 6pm, as the IPO premises closed, a number of staff, including an IPAS social worker, emerged with a list of those who had registered during the day, with outreach workers employed by the Safetynet charity, as homeless.

This appeared to cause anxiety among men who had not registered. Many said they had not been around the IPO offices when Safetynet workers were there to register them, and now feared they would not get a bed.

Shortly before 7pm there was a rush of men as two coaches arrived at the front of the IPO premises. Safetynet and IPO staff struggled initially to organise the crowd of well over 100, and several times had to tell the men to move back to allow staff check identification cards against the names on the list.

It quickly became clear at least 20 men were not on the list. They were taken to one side and a supplementary list was compiled by volunteers who took photos of each man’s IPO identity card and emailed these to the IPAS social worker, who emailed them on to the IPO for verification. This was all done on the pavement outside the offices, in the dark and in freezing rain.

The first coach left for Dundrum at about 8pm, with the second leaving about 9pm. During the process, further men arrived with bags. Some said they had been sheltering from the weather all day, others that they had been sleeping in tents elsewhere. Many appeared desperate, shivering and pleading for a bed. A further supplementary list was compiled and emailed to the IPO for verification.

By 10pm all but a handful of the men had been taken to accommodation for the weekend. Some men chose to stay, fearing what would happen to their tents if they left them.

Earlier, many described sleeping in tents on Thursday night as “hell”. One man, from Nigeria, said he had been here in a tent for two months. “It was very cold. It is a terrible situation. It was so terrible last night. The tents collapse here.”

One young man, who looked about 14 but said he was 18, from Somalia, said: “I just arrive here yesterday. It is crazy this cold. I slept here last night. You can only imagine it if you feel it.”

Some expressed fear that if they take a bed for the weekend and are sent back on the streets their tent will be “destroyed or gone”. One man from Pakistan asked if a toilet could be provided if he takes a bed and loses it after the weekend. “No wash, no toilets here. The situation is very bad. I am suffering.”

Nick Henderson, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council, expressed concern that hundreds of people could be provided with beds and then have them taken away.

He also criticised the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, which provides emergency accommodation for homeless people and maintained its position over the weekend that “the remit for the accommodation of applicants seeking international protection lies with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and any queries regarding accommodation for asylum seekers should be directed to them”.

Mr Henderson said: “Saying they have no responsibility at all for these homeless people, it’s gone beyond the point of it being OK to say that. This is a humanitarian crisis unfolding on the streets of the capital.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times