Homeless asylum seekers’ camp destroyed by fire as refugees sleeping rough express worry over safety

Taoiseach and Minister for Justice condemn scenes following stand-off between pro-and anti-immigrant protesters in Dublin on Friday evening; there was a further confrontation in the city centre on Saturday afternoon

Burnt mattresses, clothes, books, a cooked pot of pasta and abandoned sleeping bags were among the debris of a fire started at a makeshift camp on Friday night where several homeless asylum seekers had been staying.

A small group of asylum seekers are believed to have been living in the camp down a laneway off Upper Sandwith Street, in Dublin 2, for about a fortnight.

The camp had been targeted by anti-immigrant protests in recent days, which led to a tense standoff between a large group of pro- and anti-immigration protesters on Friday evening.

Gardaí attended the scene to separate the groups, with the pro-refugee demonstrators later being escorted from the area by gardaí.


One video posted on social media later showed a group of men attempting to dismantle the camp.

Further videos circulated online showed the camp in flames, after furniture and wooden pallets were set alight.

On Saturday afternoon the laneway was littered with abandoned belongings. Among the burnt debris were tins of food, plates, books, bicycles, chairs, a suitcase and a toothbrush.

A tent and several sleeping bags were strewn across the ground, alongside a burnt couch and burnt mattresses.

A spokesman for An Garda Síochána said there had been no reports of anyone injured in the fire at the camp.

One man in his 30s was arrested during the earlier protests under the Public Order Act. He has been charged and will appear in court later this month, the spokesman said.

The Department of Integration is currently unable to provide shelter to more than 550 asylum seekers who have arrived in the State, amid huge difficulties sourcing accommodation since the start of this year.

The tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees who came to the Republic following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as record numbers of asylum seekers from other countries, have stretched the department’s ability to source accommodation beyond capacity.

This has left significant numbers of asylum seekers sleeping rough in Dublin, many in tents around the city centre.

The Department of Housing and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive have both said local authorities have no role in sourcing emergency accommodation for homeless asylum seekers, who were the responsibility of the Department of Integration.

Nick Henderson, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council, said asylum seekers forced to sleep rough had been left in an incredibly vulnerable position.

“We’re working with people who’ve been robbed, assaulted, had health conditions brought on by being homeless,” he said.

“People are trying to sleep in train stations, Busáras, sitting on a Garda station lobby chair for the night,” he told The Irish Times.

The continued failure to provide asylum seekers with accommodation represented an “unprecedented” breakdown in Ireland’s response to refugees, he said.

In a statement on Saturday, the Irish Refugee Council described the incident at the asylum seekers’ camp the night before as “shocking and disgraceful”.

Nasc, a charity that works with migrants, said it was fortunate no one was injured in the “horrific” fire.

“How terrifying the experience must have been for those who came to Ireland seeking safety, only to find themselves without shelter and facing attack,” the group said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he condemned the violence unreservedly. “A tiny minority of people are clearly determined to make capital out of a difficult situation,” he said.

“The gardaí are carrying out an investigation. We cannot tolerate actions such as this,” the Fine Gael leader said.

Minister for Justice Simon Harris condemned the “utterly appalling and unacceptable scenes” in Sandwith Street. “Everyone in this country has a right to be safe. The right to protest is never a right to endanger or intimidate,” he said in a tweet.

Five minutes walk from Sandwith Street is an even larger camp of homeless asylum seekers, who have pitched rows of tents beside the International Protection Office (IPO), the State agency responsible for processing asylum applications. This was the scene of a further anti-immigrant protest on Saturday afternoon, which drew a response from public order gardaí.

There are more than fifty tents beside the IPO office, stretching along Mount Street Lower and down Grattan Court East.

Protesters marched on Saturday from the Custom House, where hundreds of people had gathered for a rally at 2pm against hate speech legislation currently before the Oireachtas.

At the end of that rally, a smaller group of demonstrators marched towards Mount Street Lower. Arriving just after 4pm, dozens of protesters carried Irish flags and banners as they walked through the camp, chanting and exchanging words with migrants.

There was pushing between some demonstrators and gardaí.

Gardaí formed a line in the roadway and were faced by shouting and swearing protesters.

Gardaí then stood across the main entrance to the camp at Grattan Court East to prevent access.

Speaking to The Irish Times earlier in the day, one 46-year-old Ukrainian refugee living in the camp, Volodymyr, said he had been sleeping in a tent at the site for nearly a month.

“If somebody comes here and if he puts on fire this tent, I have what I have in this tent, some clothes, a pair of shoes, nothing. If I lose this tent, so what,” he said.

Volodymyr, who did not wish to have his full name published, had been living in Russia during the invasion of Ukraine last February. He said he had been arrested for attending an anti-war protest, then fled the country after he was released.

The conditions sleeping rough in Dublin were “much better” than being imprisoned in a Russian jail or “being dead in Ukraine,” he said.

There were increased Garda patrols to check on the tents at Mount Street on Friday night, in light of the anti-immigrant protests nearby.

Another asylum seeker sleeping rough beside the IPO offices, a 48-year-old man from Botswana, was trying to fix his collapsed tent on Saturday afternoon. The incident at the nearby camp of asylum seekers was worrying, he said.

“It was going to be a concern for me, especially for my safety. I am an asylum seeker, if they attack me, where can I go? There is nowhere I can go,” he told The Irish Times.

The man, who had been living in a tent for a week, said he did not expect to end up sleeping rough when he travelled to Ireland to seek asylum.

Ivana Bacik, Labour Party leader and local Dublin Bay South TD, said the number of asylum seekers sleeping in tents was “unacceptable”.

Ms Bacik, who had cycled down to check on the camp beside the IPO office on Saturday, said the Government had promised “significant additional accommodation” would be available from early next week.

“We have to keep pressing Government on this, there has to be a solution found,” she said.

The department is currently considering plans to accommodate asylum seekers on floating barges, which officials hope may provide shelter for up to 1,000 people. - Additional reporting PA

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times