Residents of an emergency accommodation centre in an Army camp in Co Wicklow say they are living in a “prison” and have been isolated and forgotten by the Government.
A group staying in the Kilbride camp, which is currently home to 120 men from countries including Afghanistan, Somalia and Zimbabwe, has complained to Government officials about the conditions and management of the centre, which has been used for housing asylum seekers since January.
Paul*, a resident who requested that his identity be protected, said people living in the centre are totally isolated from Irish society and that the camp “isn’t liveable”.
“We’re in the middle of nowhere, we don’t know anyone local who can give us advice about schooling or volunteering so we haven’t integrated,” he said.
“We’ve heard that other centres around the country have community and volunteer contacts but we have no contact with anyone. It’s like they’ve brought us to a prison and kept us in prison. We have no buses on the weekend so have to stay indoors and live in isolation.”
Those who have work permits are struggling to hold down jobs because of the lack of transport options between the camp and Tallaght, he said. The centre offers a bus service first thing in the morning which returns at 6.30pm, he said, adding that those who come back on this bus miss dinner at the centre.
In early November, residents held a protest calling to be transferred to a less rural location with better conditions and different management. They had planned to travel to Dublin and protest outside the Dáil, but this was called off due to safety concerns as anti-immigration protesters were congregating on the same day.
Residents contacted the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) in August, saying they felt “segregated” and that the lack of access to public transport was “hindering their ability to engage with the broader society and access essential services”.
Their email, seen by The Irish Times, also noted poor heating facilities in the camp and said many residents were “grappling with mental health issues” and required access to social workers.
“While we appreciate the efforts that have been made to provide housing, many of us are finding the current living conditions uncomfortable and unsuitable,” stated the email signed by “Kilbride residents”.
The Department of Equality responded by arranging for customer service and resident welfare teams to meet people living in the camp on November 7th.
In response to a parliamentary question, Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman said IPAS was “committed to working with centre management to seek improvements urgently” and would hold another clinic within two weeks to provide an update to residents.
Asked in a recent parliamentary question who manages the centre, Mr O’Gorman responded that contractual arrangements for IPAS centres were “deemed confidential and commercially sensitive”.
Paul said department officials gave residents the option of moving into tented accommodation elsewhere.
“That feels like a double-edged sword – either you stay here and are forgotten about or you move into tents where the only benefit is you’ll have more integration,” he said.
Residents of the Kilbride centre include men who were staying in a makeshift migrant camp in south inner city Dublin that was extensively damaged in a fire last May, he added.
When asked to comment on the Kilbride residents’ complaints, a department spokeswoman said it was “a priority to arrange transfers” out of Kilbride camp as soon as asylum seekers living in tents have been moved to alternative accommodation.
IPAS staff carried out an unannounced site inspection on November 20th and found a “number of improvements”, she said.
A training unit is also conducting sessions with accommodation providers, including those managing Kilbride, on a weekly basis. These sessions include training to “all centre staff on acceptable contact with residents” and “supporting residents in distress”, she said.
The department also encouraged any residents unhappy with their accommodation to make a complaint through their customer support team or to contact the Jesuit Refugee Service for confidential support.
There are currently 26,092 international protection applications, including 5,581 children, being housed in State accommodation around the country, according to the latest IPAS statistics. In the past month, an average of 43 applicants have arrived in Ireland each day.
Georgians represent the highest number of asylum seekers being accommodated by the State followed by Nigerians, Algerians, Somalis, Zimbabweans and Afghans.
- Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date