Dr Niall Muldoon, the Ombudsman for Children, has criticised differences in how the State treats families from Ukraine and families seeking asylum from other countries as “unacceptable”, in correspondence to the Government.
In a December 21st, 2022 letter to Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman, Dr Muldoon said the Citywest centre in Dublin was “simply not fit for purpose”.
Dr Muldoon said it appeared families arriving into the country from Ukraine were moved on from Citywest to alternative accommodation “within 24 hours”.
He said this was not the case for families with children seeking asylum from other countries, who “stay for two to three weeks and sometimes longer” in the transit hub.
“It is unacceptable that children are treated in this discriminatory manner and it cannot be allowed to continue,” he wrote.
The correspondence, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, said there were only 16 showers in Citywest, where 800 were living in “a space designed for a maximum of 350 people”.
The Ombudsman, who acts as an independent watchdog for children’s rights, said he had previously raised concerns about the “inequitable treatment” of asylum seekers compared to Ukrainian refugees.
The Citywest facility has been at capacity since January this year, with a lack of beds leaving some men sleeping on chairs for up to 30 days.
Dr Muldoon said conditions in the centre required an “immediate” response from the Government. The responsibility for addressing the huge pressure to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers “cannot and must not rest with one single department”, he added.
“We are fully aware that the ultimate solution to the crisis in Citywest is the sourcing of sufficient, appropriate accommodation, which is equally accessible to both cohorts of refugees,” he wrote.
Since late January more than 800 asylum seekers were unable to be accommodated by the State, with many resorting to sleeping rough as a result.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Integration said officials were subsequently able to source accommodation for 348 people, but there were still 479 asylum seekers it was unable to offer shelter to at present.
In a March 2nd letter to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Dr Muldoon said he had “serious concerns” the State was failing to consider the rights of child asylum seekers when making decisions.
The Ombudsman said some children were being housed in “inadequate emergency accommodation”, which “hinders the State’s capacity to ensure the safety and welfare of those children”.
In another letter to Mr O’Gorman late last December, the Ombudsman hit out at the decision to move families with children into a former office building in East Wall, during large protests against asylum seekers being housed at the site.
Dr Muldoon queried the decision given the accommodation was subject to “anti-immigration and far right protests on a regular basis” which would be “hugely damaging” emotionally to children living in the former ESB offices.
“In addition, we have been informed that they are living in small, partitioned rooms, with limited living space, no privacy, unsuitable shower facilities and no access to places to play. This is highly problematic,” he wrote.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year the Government has been under huge pressure to source accommodation for tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees, as well as record levels of asylum seekers arriving from other countries.