Department of Justice officials have warned there is a “chronic lack of space” to accommodate new asylum seekers in the direct provision system.
The majority of direct provision centres are operating at nearly full capacity, due to an increase in the number of applicants and difficulties refugees with status to remain have in moving on and securing housing. The percentage of asylum seekers taking up the State’s offer of accommodation in direct provision centres has also increased, the briefings state.
Earlier this month, the department was “unable to offer immediate accommodation services to some single males” seeking asylum and had to refer them to homelessness services, a spokesman said.
Problems with capacity in the direct-provision system were first raised in the department last January, according to internal briefings released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Department briefings for Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan in January said two previously closed centres had been reopened in Killarney and Carrick-on-Suir due to an "urgent and immediate need" for additional beds.
“The alternative would be for such persons to present to the already overstretched homeless services,” briefings said.
The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), the State body responsible for running the direct provision system, feared pressures would be compounded in the "event of a rush of applications", ahead of asylum seekers being granted the right to work earlier this year. The agency has 5,800 available beds across the system, in centres run either by the State or contracted private operators.
“This includes some 600 persons in accommodation who have been granted permission to remain in Ireland. Some of these have recently received a decision while others have received decisions several months and indeed a couple of years ago,” a department spokesman said.
In briefings for the Minister prepared by the agency in March, officials warned there was a “chronic lack of space for families, especially large families”, in the system.
“Centre management are beginning to advise of instances where residents are reacting negatively about additional beds being placed in rooms and of rising friction in centres,” briefings said.
“At all times RIA is observing legal capacity limits, but prior to the current crisis, RIA had been observing unofficial caps on numbers of single persons in rooms,” documents state.
In March, the department opened a new centre in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare, a decision which was met with opposition from some in the local community. Due to the “local disquiet”, RIA officials said they decided to only fill the 115-bed centre on a “gradual basis over a few months”, May briefings outline.
In July, officials told Mr Flanagan the advised vacancy rate across the system should be 565 beds, to allow for contingencies such as an increase in applications. But in practice, only 48 beds were available for new applicants, officials warned.
Lucky Khambule, spokesman for the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, said centres were increasingly doubling up the number of people placed in rooms, by introducing bunk beds.
“In the last four or five months it has become a big issue with residents. It would not have been common to have bunk beds in centres up until now,” he said. “It does make life very difficult. There is now no space, no privacy – people don’t have anywhere to put their belongings.”
The department is working with housing charity Depaul to assist refugees with status to remain in the country find their own housing and leave the direct provision system.