The Government has purchased 37 properties to date to house asylum seekers, Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman told a conference on Monday amid further strain on State accommodation for refugees.
Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) have been commissioned to operationalise the 37 properties, and they will be “prioritised to accommodate vulnerable international protection applicants”, Mr O’Gorman said, adding that the properties would be delivered on “a phased basis over the next number of months”.
It comes as the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) of the Department of Integration starts to turn away some asylum seekers due to a lack of beds. It is the second time this year asylum seekers will have to sleep rough due to the State’s inability to accommodate them. Asylum seekers forced to sleep rough due to an expected lack of State accommodation will have access to drop-in centres during the day. They will also be provided with tents and sleeping bags, the department said.
The decision by IPAS to turn away some asylum seekers will likely apply to single adult men at first.
Asylum seekers who cannot get access to State accommodation when they arrive in Ireland will get a weekly payment of €75 under fresh plans due to go to Cabinet. This is an increase on the existing €38 per week payment provided.
Government sources confirmed on Monday night that the temporary plan will be discussed at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
Alongside the 37 properties the State has now purchased a dedicated eight-bed unit for victims of trafficking has also been established in accordance with White Paper recommendations on ending direct provision, the Minister said on Monday. The first residents moved into the unit earlier this month.
“My department is progressing the introduction of independent monitoring of IPAS centres by Hiqa, providing greater confidence on the standards being applied in existing IP accommodation,” Mr O’Gorman said. Hiqa’s role would apply to all “permanent” centres contracted by IPAS, the Minister said.
Mr O’Gorman was speaking at a conference about the White Paper to end direct provision on Monday. The Minister published a White Paper in late 2020 which undertook to bring to an end by December 2024 the controversial system of accommodation for those seeking international protection in Ireland which has been in place since 2002.
The White Paper was published after receiving recommendations from an expert advisory group chaired by Dr Catherine Day, former secretary general of the European Commission. The implementation of the policy has been overtaken by international events including 90,000 fleeing to Ireland from the war in Ukraine, and also by a fivefold increase in the number of people arriving into Ireland seeking international protection following Covid.
“It is my intention to very soon bring forward a revised White Paper to Cabinet,” the Minister said on Monday, but he could not offer specifics prior to plans being taken to Cabinet.
He said the department would “expand State-owned receptions centres, using capital investment to develop reception and integration centres at all larger scales over a longer time period, making use of phase two properties for those with identified vulnerabilities, and retaining surge capacity for unexpected large migration flows”.
Speaking at the same event on Monday, Dr Day said Ireland had made “a particular choice” in contracting the private sector to cover accommodation needs to shelter people seeking asylum in Ireland. She called for the State to build its own reception centres on State-owned land instead.
“The private sector is not able to provide sufficient places, and in any event putting people into hotels is not suitable for them long term. It should only be used to provide emergency accommodation,” she said.
On Monday the department said “drop-in day services” would also be provided where unhoused asylum seekers could access hot showers, meals and laundry services. These centres would also provide tents and sleeping bags if needed and would open seven days a week. The department said it has agreement with two charities to operate these services in Dublin.
All international protection applicants who arrive during an “unaccommodated period” will be assessed by IPAS and the HSE “for significant vulnerabilities and health issues, and prioritised for accommodation as necessary”.
The department is currently providing accommodation to 100,000 people, including 74,000 fleeing Ukraine and 26,000 international protection applicants. “Despite intensive efforts to source emergency accommodation the department is currently not in a position to provide accommodation to all international protection applicants due to the severe shortage.”
Amid cold and icy conditions over the weekend there are also fears that unaccommodated asylum seekers could find themselves vulnerable as tensions remain in the aftermath of last week’s riots in Dublin and an attack on and burning of a tent in the city centre earlier this year. It is understood there are concerns within Government regarding the safety of foreign nationals who are forced to sleep rough in light of last week’s riots which were instigated by far-right, anti-immigrant groups. During the riots some former and still-operating accommodation centres for asylum seekers were targeted and vandalised.
Tánaiste Michael Martin warned that shortages of accommodation for asylum seekers were likely to continue. He said on Monday it “is not that simple” to provide housing “overnight” for refugees. “There will continue to be challenges. That’s the reality of what we’re dealing with.”
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