Some 200 adults who have recently arrived in Ireland seeking international protection are set to be housed in tents in Co Athlone from this weekend because of the lack of accommodation available to house asylum seekers.
The Department of Children confirmed on Friday it was setting up a “temporary structure” on the site of the Athlone direct provision centre in Lissywollen, Co Westmeath which is managed by the Aramark services provider.
This structure, which is expected to be set up this weekend, will consist of “four large tents each subdivided into mini bedrooms together with full toilet and washing facilities and the provision of meals”, a spokesman for the department told The Irish Times. Only adults would be accommodated in this temporary structure, which was anticipated to remain in use until the end of October, he added.
Ukrainian refugees, who do not need a visa to travel to Ireland and are offered supports under the EU’s Temporary Protection Directive, will not be housed in the tented structure in Athlone.
The department was working to “identify and source longer term accommodation” for international protection applicants, said the spokesman.
Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman previously said in late July that there were no plans for more tented villages after tented accommodation was erected at Gormanston Army camp in Co Meath and at the direct provision centre at Knockalisheen near Limerick city in Meelick, Co Clare.
There are more than 14,000 people from countries across the globe in the international protection system, up from the 7,198 asylum seekers who were being accommodated by the State at the end of 2021. An estimated 8,500 people have arrived in Ireland so far this year seeking asylum while about 3,000 of those in the system have received their papers to live and work in Ireland but are unable to secure housing.
This notable increase in numbers seeking asylum are the result of a combination of factors with, most significantly, the authorities having struggled to move people out of the system in recent years due to the ongoing housing crisis and the numbers arriving in Ireland rising sharply as international travel resumed and the effects of the pandemic eased.
More than 18 months have passed since Government announced its White Paper plans for ending direct provision. The new accommodation system was scheduled to be fully operational by December 2024. However, the Government is now expected to drop this goal because of the tens of thousands of Ukrainians arriving into Ireland. It is understood the Department of Children is planning to issue a revised plan for replacing direct provision in the coming months.
Fiona Hurley, chief executive of Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre in Cork city, acknowledged that the Government was using tents to accommodate asylum seekers as “a last resort and emergency measure” but stressed that tented villages should not be used “beyond a short few days”.
“It is hard to overstate how unsuitable this accommodation is for people fleeing to Ireland for safety, particularly given that we are facing a heatwave this weekend,” Ms Hurley said. “We are also concerned that there is also an unfortunate precedent of temporary measures like direct provision itself, emergency accommodation and pre-reception centres becoming part of the infrastructure of Ireland’s reception system.”
Ms Hurley also expressed concern about the conditions in these tents, which “are likely to be considerably worse than they would have been when the White Paper [on ending direct provision] was commissioned”.