‘People look at us like animals’: Asylum seekers in makeshift Dublin camp suffer skin and respiratory illnesses

Volunteers providing food and tents say men are experiencing skin and respiratory conditions, gastrointestinal illnesses

The Irish Times counted 133 tents pitched along the pavement on Mount Street Lower around and behind the IPO on Grattan Court and Grattan Street. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Up to 200 men are sleeping in a makeshift camp in Dublin city centre amid growing calls for an emergency response from Government to provide “secure shelter” to homeless asylum seekers.

Volunteers providing food, tents, clothes, shoes and bedding say the men, who have no access to running water, toilets or refuse collection are experiencing skin conditions including scabies, respiratory conditions and gastrointestinal illnesses. Depression and anxiety are also increasing, they add.

Since December 4th, when the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) said it could no longer provide accommodation to male asylum seekers, numbers sleeping rough around the offices of the International Protection Office (IPO) have increased steadily.

The Irish Times counted 133 tents, provided by volunteers and charitable donations, pitched along the pavement on Mount Street Lower around and behind the IPO on Grattan Court and Grattan Street. Many appeared to accommodate two men each. In a number of areas tents were clustered together in mini-camps. One area has been designated for rubbish where piles of sodden clothes, blankets, empty food cartons, bottles, cans, and reportedly human faeces and urine, are piled four feet high and ten feet long. A noxious odour is strong in the area.

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Volunteers with the grassroots group Social Justice Ireland say they have repeatedly, over recent weeks, asked both the IPO and Dublin City Council, to collect the waste. The IPO said: “Rubbish collection is a matter for Dublin City Council.” The council has not responded to request for comment.

As of Tuesday, according to data from IPAS, 1,260 male asylum seekers “awaiting offer of accommodation”. More are arriving daily at the IPO camp with just their belongings and dependent on volunteers for tents and sleeping bags.

On Monday night Tariq, in his 40s, from arrived Ramallah, Palestine via Jordan, with one small bag. Provided with a tent, he a number of volunteers walked around the area twice looking for a patch of ground to pitch it. Eventually two Afghan men moved their tent slightly and then worked with the volunteers to pitch Tariq’s tent, in lashing rain.

A volunteer went to their car returning with a waterproof mat and some bedding. Asked what he thought of his situation Tariq became emotional. “I don’t understand anything that has happened to us. I am speechless; 22 Arabic countries doesn’t stand with us. Ireland is good people. Thank God.”

Togazan (40) from Zimbabwe arrived in Ireland on Saturday. Accommodated in Citywest until Monday he presented at the IPO to seek asylum that morning. “They told me to find anywhere to sleep but the re is no accommodation for us single men.” Asked if he was provided with a tent or bedding he said: “Totally nothing. These people [volunteers] gave me a tent but I don’t have a sleeping bag so I don’t know what I am going to do during the night.

“Where I left today in Citywest there was a place to sleep. There is a space. There are many beds empty. So, I don’t understand why all these people sleep on the streets.”

Ahmad (22) from Afghanistan has been here 40 days, he said. “I was here in the snow and it was very difficult. Here is every time cold. We are sleeping on the street and I am thinking I escaped from the hell, from Taliban and I am thinking I am now also in the hell, because the street, sleeping on the street is also in the hell.

“It is cold, it is hard and also it is water. Our clothes, our sleeping bag is wet. It is so bad. When your clothes is wet it is so bad and also I feel sick. Sometimes I am asking, ‘Am I human?’.

“When I was coming from Afghanistan it was so difficult. People looking at us like animals. When Taliban come to my country they are killing us. Here Government is not caring. This is Protection office. Protection is not like this.” He shows his late father’s employment certificate in Afghanistan, indicating he worked in the US Army Engineer Corps.

“My father was killed by Taliban and my mother tell me, ‘Go, leave’. I was talking to my mum. I didn’t tell her I sleep in tent. She will be very worried. I tell her, ‘Here is no problem’.”

Dr Fiona O’Reilly, chief executive of the medical charity Safetynet, expressed concern there was “more and more risk” for the men as the size of the camp grows. “There’s an informal camp there and no streamlined pathway for the men to the services they need. I hope and believe Government is doing what it can to source accommodation but until then these men need basic shelter where they are safe, with running water, food, access to health screening.

“With the current numbers coming, an emergency response is needed now to get on top of what is increasingly a humanitarian crisis. It can be done in matter of days, weeks at most. The Department of Children needs to talk to the Department of Housing. There is loads of land the Government owns.”

The Department of Children said: “Despite intensive efforts to source emergency accommodation, the Department is currently not in a position to provide accommodation to all international protection applicants (IPAs) due to the severe shortage.

All male IPAs who present to the International Protection Office (IPO) during this period are assessed by IPAS and HSE staff for significant vulnerabilities and health issues, and prioritised for accommodation as necessary.

IPAs who are not provided with accommodation will receive a temporary increase of €75 to their Daily Expense Allowance (DEA). This will increase the allowance from the current rate of €38.80 per week to €113.80 a week for all eligible applicants.

“Drop-in day services are provided to all non-accommodated people who wish to avail of them. In such centres, International Protection (IP) applicants can access facilities including hot showers, meals and laundry services seven days a week.” Volunteers at the IPO dispute the assertion that laundry facilities are available at any centre.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times