Shelving refugee programme considered due to housing crisis
Officials note that direct provision beds as temporary measure unlikely to solve problem
Housing in Mosney for asylum seekers. The Government has acknowledged that it will not meet its target of accepting 4,000 people from overseas by the end of 2017. Photograph: Frank Miller
Government officials have considered “suspending” the arrival of asylum seekers from Greece and Lebanon due to “critical” capacity issues in accommodating relocated refugees, documents seen by The Irish Times reveal.
In 2015 the State undertook to accept 4,000 asylum seekers from Greece, Italy and Lebanon as part of relocation and resettlement programmes agreed with European Union counterparts.
Some 1,400 people, predominantly Syrians, have so far arrived in Ireland with more due to be accepted in 2018 and 2019. But internal Department of Justice records over recent months reveal an mounting anxiety over the State’s ability to deal with this influx.
A briefing prepared for the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan in July outlines that 32 centres operated by the Reception and Integration Agency are at 91 per cent capacity with some of the leftover beds unavailable “due to family configurations and maintenance”. The agency provides accommodation and related services for refugees and asylum seekers,
The Government also sought to establish Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres to cater for new arrivals.
Commenting on the three centres opened so far in Kildare, Waterford and Roscommon, an earlier briefing describes the lack of available beds as a “critical issue”. It also confirms that the 210-person facility in Ballaghaderreen which opened in March was filled to capacity within two months.
The same document describes occupancy at other agency centres as being at “critical levels”. It also notes that “even taking the unfavoured option of using direct provision beds as a temporary measure is unlikely to address the situation”.
The notes reveal frustration at poor responses to repeated public tenders for new reception centres, with Government officials giving serious consideration to “suspending” arrivals from Greece and Lebanon “until appropriate accommodation is found”, according to a briefing from April.
The “limited” market supply for new centres was again written about internally in the department in July, when officials said the State is now “struggling to get asylum seekers from Greece to Ireland”.
The Irish Refugee Council warned that suspending relocation and resettlement programmes would leave people living in “substandard conditions in Greece and Lebanon”. It said the State’s struggle to meet accommodation commitments under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme was “indicative of the wider housing crisis in Ireland and the failures of successive governments to properly address this issue”.
Fiona Finn, head of Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, criticised the Government’s “flawed policy” of using large reception centres as temporary housing for asylum seekers. She also questioned why the State had not moved immediately to accept pledges of accommodation from the public.
“The State had an opportunity to depart from the direct provision-type system, with all its inherent flaws . . . and instead chose to continue to utilise a system that they themselves had already recognised as broken and in need of reform,” said Ms Finn.
The Irish Red Cross, which was chosen by the Government in 2015 to manage the more than 800 public pledges of accommodation, goods and services for refugees, said it was only given access by the department to work with “a percentage of the overall cohort of refugees” in early 2017 followed by a larger group in June 2017.
The charity said it began placing refugees in suitable housing “as soon as they received their refugee status” and that 65 refugees had been settled in housing across nine counties. It added that the responsibility for housing refugees arriving from Greece and Lebanon lay with the Government.
“The focus of the Irish Red Cross in particular has been on a group of migrants with refugee status identified by the Department of Justice. This group is comprised of some families, but mainly single people, and the Irish Red Cross is utilising the pledged accommodation and private rented sector accommodation to house these refugees.”
The charity highlighted that it had been unable to contact “a significant number of pledgers” by phone or email and asked that anyone who signed up to the register contact the charity.
The Minister has said Ireland will fulfil its commitment to accept 1,089 refugees from Greece under the EU-wide relocation programme by early 2018 following repeated delays.
The Government has acknowledged that it will not meet its initial target of accepting 4,000 people from overseas by the end of 2017. And it has yet to even begin accepting more than 600 refugees from Italy due to diplomatic issues.