Homeless asylum seekers: ‘It’s hard sleeping outside, it’s cold, it’s wet. It’s no life’

Despite having to sleep rough here, most asylum seekers believe it is preferable to the situation that caused them to flee to Ireland

“They have to protect me, housing is a need,” says Erick Nkomazana, a homeless international protection (IP) applicant.

Originally from Zimbabwe, he has been sleeping rough since arriving in Ireland one month ago. He says being provided with shelter ought to be “a basic thing”.

“How many people are they taking in?” he asks. “Even if you see them taking one person, it makes a difference. If you live in fear, you cannot perform at your best.”

As of last Friday, Nkomazana was one of 557 homeless asylum seekers in Ireland. This number has doubled since early March.


The EU’s reception conditions directive says that member states should provide “particular attention to vulnerable persons, especially unaccompanied minors and victims of torture”. NGOs and migrant advocacy groups have criticised the Government for failing to meet its legal obligations to protect asylum seekers, particularly vulnerable ones.

In a letter seen by The Irish Times, the Irish Refugee Council asked a number of Government departments which identified vulnerabilities meet the threshold of warranting the provision of accommodation to IP applicants, and how these are assessed.

The High Court last month found that Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman’s failure to provide “material reception conditions” to a minor Afghan asylum seeker left homeless when he arrived in Ireland was unlawful.

Nkomazana says he came to Ireland to flee torture in his native Zimbabwe, meaning he too is considered vulnerable under the EU directive. Before leaving his home country, he says he spent a week in a prison cell and was beaten daily. He still walks with a limp and points out visible damage to his knee, which he says is a result of these assaults.

Alongside dozens of others, Nkomazana sleeps in a tent outside the International Protection Office (IPO) in Dublin. He says the recent High Court decision in relation to the Afghan minor offers him and other IP applicants hope that they may be housed soon.

Jareth*, an IP applicant from Nicaragua who has been homeless in Limerick for a month, says he endured torture in the Central American country due to accusations that he opposed the regime of President Daniel Ortega.

“They took me to a place where I was on my feet, I couldn’t lie down, I couldn’t sit,” he says. “They beat me from the moment they put me in the patrol car.”

John Lannon, chief executive of Doras, an NGO supporting migrants, says the category of particularly vulnerable refugees extends beyond minors and victims of torture.

“A vulnerable person includes a reference to a person who is a minor, an unaccompanied minor, a person with a disability, an elderly person, a pregnant woman, a single parent of a minor, a victim of human trafficking, a person with a serious illness, a person with a mental disorder, and a person who has been subjected to torture, rape or other form of serious psychological, physical or sexual violence,” he says.

“Without a proper initial assessment of an international protection applicant’s vulnerabilities, we now have situations where people meeting some of these criteria are forced to survive on the streets because the State has not provided them with accommodation. This puts them at risk.”

When Jareth, who speaks Spanish, first arrived in Ireland, the documentation outlining his arrival interview and questionnaire provided to him by the IPO did not feature the signature of a present interpreter.

When asked about its interpreter policy, the Department of Justice said interpreters assist in full with applications and questionnaires, and that if an applicant speaks a “less common language” an invitation to return to the IPO is arranged to allow for the presence of a suitable interpreter.

Refugees with a number of other vulnerabilities also find themselves sleeping on the streets. Emmanuel*, from Nigeria, says he and his wife spent six nights sleeping rough when they arrived in Ireland at the end of March. His wife has since been housed after a positive pregnancy test, but he remains homeless.

He says his wife is “depressed” while dealing with morning sickness and other challenges of pregnancy without his support.

When Emmanuel emailed the International Protection Accommodation Services, the State body responsible for housing asylum seekers, asking for updates on his accommodation situation, he received a response referencing “the nationwide shortage of available accommodation for IP applicants, particularly single males . . .”.

Emmanuel says he is yet to receive a response acknowledging that he is not a single male. The document provided to him by the IPO following his arrival interview lists his marital status as “married”.

“I can’t start condemning Ireland,” he says. “I do not know what to do, I have to be patient. Nothing in life comes easy.”

Shortly after his wife received accommodation, Emmanuel says that while on the streets, he called emergency services to attend to another homeless man who appeared to be in physical distress due to the cold.

“Maybe I will die like that before I get accommodation,” he says.

Jareth has a similar fear. In a text message he sent to an Irish NGO, he said he fears dying in the cold on the streets, saying that he is “worse than a homeless person”.

All of the asylum seekers The Irish Times spoke to said that, either through their own research or word of mouth from others who have come here, they believed Ireland would be a safer place for them than their home countries.

Despite finding themselves homeless here, most believe it is preferable to the situation that caused them to flee to Ireland.

“It’s better than being in the hands of people who want to kill you,” says Joseph*, who fears persecution in his native Malawi due to his sexuality.

Most of those interviewed say they do not tell their families that they are homeless in Ireland for fear of causing further stress back home.

Only a few months ago, it was not the case that refugees arriving found themselves immediately homeless. Ait Ouyakoub Mohand Ouamar arrived from Algeria last November. He spent one night in the Citywest Transit Hub before being transferred to the accommodation where he still lives today.

“I am very lucky,” says Ouamar, who now volunteers at The Lighthouse soup kitchen for the charity Tiglin, where he interacts with homeless IP applicants. “Two or three months later, the situation changes drastically.”

“In the last two months, numbers [using Lighthouse] have increased,” says Aubrey McCarthy, chair of Lighthouse. “I’m noticing people from countries we wouldn’t have dealt with regularly – Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Moldova. You’re dealing with areas that aren’t the usual cohort that come in here.

“Last week we had people come in who were sent to us from the airport. They got off the plane and the guards sent them here for accommodation. We’re full up, so all we can do is give food or sleeping bags.

“I know we’re in breach of our obligations as a nation. I know that’s being challenged, but that takes a while to challenge. In the meantime, people are still going to be coming off planes and they’re not coming here to live on the streets as an alternative. They’re thinking there is an opportunity and there isn’t one. Whatever they’re fleeing is worse than what they’re getting here.”

In a statement, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth said a number of “complex projects” were under way in an effort to free up more bed space for IP applicants. The department said these are “subject to planning and building control regulations that can prolong delivery”.

The department said it was accommodating more than 83,000 people (including Ukrainian refugees), compared with 7,500 in February of last year.

Asylum seekers who do not fall into the aforementioned vulnerable category say they face certain dangers while homeless and searching for accommodation.

Ousmane*, from Senegal, says that when he phoned a local authority looking for accommodation he was told to go back to where he came from as there no space for him. He has been homeless for five weeks.

As a single man, he understands the added vulnerabilities of others and the housing crisis in Ireland, but nonetheless expresses surprise at being homeless. Like a number of the IP applicants who spoke to The Irish Times, he says he has been robbed while on the streets.

“I was surprised but it’s a difficult situation,” says Ousmane. “I did not know what to expect but I had to get away [from Senegal]. I was told in Ireland I would be free. I wake up at six, wait for the Capuchin Centre to open at 7.30am, walk around all day and then go to sleep. It’s hard sleeping outside, it’s cold, it’s wet. It’s no life.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities