Two dozen emergency accommodation centres which currently house more than 1,300 asylum seekers are to be “decommissioned” by the end of this year, the Department of Children and Equality has said.
The department, which is leading plans to end direct provision, told The Irish Times it plans to shut the 24 emergency centres by the end of 2021.
There are more than 8,200 adults and children living in direct provision and emergency accommodation centres. These include 5,116 adults and 1,784 children in direct provision with an additional 1,186 adults and 174 children in emergency accommodation centres.
Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman said earlier this year, following the launch of the White Paper for ending direct provision in February, that his priority was to “move away completely” from emergency accommodation in 2021 and 2022.
The new accommodation system for asylum seekers, known as the International Protection Support Services (IPSS), is scheduled to be fully operational by December 2024.
Under the new system, asylum seekers will spend a maximum of four months in six custom-built and State-owned reception centres before moving into housing secured through Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs).
The State-owned integration and reception centres will have a total capacity for 1,980 at one time (330 in each centre) with one centre located in Dublin and five dotted around the country.
A department spokesman said work was still ongoing to identify the locations for these centres.
An IPSS transition team is being assembled while a “detailed implementation plan” for ending direct provision is scheduled to be completed by the end of June, the spokesman said.
Mr O’Gorman is also set to announce the members of the programme board and external advisory committee that will oversee the transition to IPSS in the coming weeks, said the spokesman, adding that the programme board’s first meeting is due to take place in June.
Discussions with the Housing Agency about available funding schemes for accommodation in the community and the role AHBs will play in the new system are ongoing, the spokesman said. The County and City Management Association is also developing an "allocation key" that will be used as a guide for how many asylum seekers are accommodated in each local authority area, he added.
Mr O’Gorman previously said the expertise of the Housing Agency would be “crucial” in developing the new accommodation system.
Vulnerability assessments of new arrivals, which was flagged by the Minister as another priority area, are also now taking place daily as part of a pilot programme, said the spokesman.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice said it was working through a backlog of asylum applications which includes 1,445 applicants who have been waiting two years or longer for a first-instance decision.
The expert group report led by former secretary general of the European Commission Dr Catherine Day last year recommended that people who have spent more than two years in the system be offered five years leave to remain. Asked whether this suggestion was being considered, a spokesman said a review of the reduction and improvement of processing times would be carried out by October 2022 "at the latest". The department will then decide whether additional measures, including leave to remain, are required, he said.
He acknowledged that processing times had been "severely disrupted" by Covid-19 restrictions and that no interviews were conducted between January and May of this year. Video interviews have been held in Dublin and Cork since May 10th with plans to start holding video link interviews with applicants in Letterkenny and Galway, he added.
A total of 1,566 applications for international protection were made in 2020, a drop of two-thirds on the 4,781 asylum claims made in 2019. A total of 480 applications for asylum were made in Ireland during the first four months of this year. More than 20 per cent of applicants in 2021 were Nigerian with seven per cent coming from Afghanistan, more than six per cent from South Africa and another six per cent from Somalia.