Women asylum seekers living in a repurposed office building in Dublin’s East Wall are “begging” for information about how long they will have to stay there, saying they have “no privacy”, feel “unsafe” and worry about their children’s welfare.
They say more than 300 people are sharing 20 showers and two washing machines in the basement car-park; that cubicle partitions do not reach the ceilings and children play constantly in walkways and have nowhere to do homework.
The building has been leased for asylum seeker accommodation until next December. As of December 20th, when 12 people in six couples were moved in, there were 357 residents.
“This is mainly comprised of 37 families, along with 29 couples, 92 single females and 120 single males,” said a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Equality. “This is within the capacity of the facility.”
The former ESB offices have been the subject of ongoing protests by people concerned about the accommodation of large numbers of asylum seekers.
The pleas of women transferred to the building from a hotel on December 5th came as the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) expressed its “serious concerns regarding child safety and living conditions of 200 asylum-seeking children and families”.
In a letter to Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman, dated December 21st, JRS director Eugene Quinn says outreach workers met “very distressed and angry families who were distraught at their living conditions” during a visit on December 9th. “There was a lot of tears, shouting and upset.”
He said “red line” concerns include children showering with non-family adults; cramped cubicles; inadequate laundry and bathroom facilities; a lack of space for children; a lack of natural light and lack of privacy.
Partitions between cubicles “are 2.5m high so do not reach the ceilings. There is no possibility of private life in such circumstances with every sound carrying over the floor”. Bunk beds in some cubicles permit anyone to look into adjoining cubicles, he wrote.
“Some of the families had insufficient space in their rooms and their cases and belongings were outside in the hall/walkway between bedrooms. For example, a family of five was (two adults and three children) in two bunk beds (one double, one single).”
Mr Quinn acknowledged the pressure the department is under to source accommodation for asylum seekers, but said there is “an urgent need to move away from the current reactive model of privately sourced temporary accommodation, which has resulted in deteriorating standards of accommodation with each new iteration”.
One woman, with sons aged eight and nine, said that when they arrived at the centre from a hotel “all the people were shocked, start to cry”.
“We asked how long we would be there and no one answer us. We just want to know when we will go to a good place. We are begging,” she said.
“The bad thing is there is no privacy. It is not safe. You can close the cubicle, but it is open at the top. You can hear everything, even the breath of your neighbour. We are not asking for big house. We are asking just for privacy because we can’t control children in this situation.”
The woman said she likes her children to go to sleep at about 8pm but here they are awake until at least 11pm. She is worried about January when they will need routine and a place to do homework.
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A single woman from Algeria who had her own room in a hotel but now shares a window-less office with four other women said: “I am scared.”
“The managers, the security, everyone who works in this place is very good and nice people. They are treating us very well, but the conditions are not good.”
Nick Henderson, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council, said he had written to Mr O’Gorman on December 15th about “significant issues around privacy, lighting, washing facilities, play and child wellbeing” in the facility.
A department spokeswoman said there were no plans for further asylum seekers to be accommodated in the East Wall building “in the coming weeks”.
“It is not possible to say how long residents will remain at this location. Families and single males are segregated on separate floors. On the family floors there are a number of fathers residing with their families in their own rooms,” she said. “Each room or pod has integrated locks. The rooms and pods reach a height of 2.5m, therefore it is not possible for residents to overlook into a neighbouring pod. There are security personnel on each floor at all times.”