For Burmese refugee Pah Doh, the family home she has shared with her parents and siblings in Castlebar since 2007 was her first proper house, but now they all must leave, and have been given notice to leave by the end of this week.
“When I was five [in 2001], my mother, Way Day, fled the military junta in Burma [the country’s name before it was officially changed to Myanmar] with me and my brothers and many other members of the Karen people,” she says.
They lived in a bamboo shack with a thatched roof at the vast Ban Don Yang refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border for the next six years.
“We had no facilities and got our water from the river, so you can imagine how we felt when we moved here to a proper house,” the 27-year-old student nurse tells The Irish Times.
They rent their home in Castlebar under the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) – a social housing support for those who have a long-term housing need – and stress that the owner has always been a good and fair landlord. However, he gave them notice in May 2022 to quit, citing essential civil works to the property. He extended the notice due to the eviction ban and then to the end of this week on compassionate grounds.
Pah Doh has been in constant contact with the county council and its RAS office over the last year.
“At a meeting last week, they told us they can’t help us and to present ourselves as homeless and we would be assessed for emergency accommodation. My stepfather has heart problems and is blind in one eye. My mother is so stressed about it all. Neither of them speaks English, which adds to their anxieties,” she says.
Pah Doh adds: “Two of my brothers are still at school – Ryan Day is 11 and in 5th class and Gay Nay Doh is 17 and in 5th year. They are very much part of the community with a lot of Irish friends.”
Family friend Gerard Mulherin helped co-ordinate the resettlement of almost 100 Karen refugees in Mayo back in 2007 in his role as a community development integration officer. He is now advocating on their behalf, as are other members of the tightly-knit Karen community in Mayo.
“Mayo County Council has suggested the family of six try and rent privately. With all its resources, the council is unable to find a property, yet they expect this vulnerable family to be able to do so.”
The family were referred by RAS to the emergency accommodation section of the Castlebar municipal district where they were told there is no accommodation available. What is the point with issuing them with accommodation vouchers when all the participating hotels and B&Bs are full to capacity?” says Mulherin, a community engagement officer these days with Mayo North East.
Mulherin argues that local authorities need to be given more powers and flexibility in sourcing accommodation.
“Ironically, if the family arrived in Ireland today and claimed asylum they probably would have a better chance of getting accommodation. The integration section of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth which is responsible for housing our international protection applicants enjoy a degree of flexibility for sourcing accommodation which the council lacks,” he says. “How can one organ of the state have the ability to rent hotels, hostels and holiday homes to meet the housing demands of their target group whereas the county council does not? Surely the county council should also be given the flexibility and the budget to address the accommodation needs in their municipal districts?”
Speaking also to The Irish Times, the landlord, who does not wish to be identified, said: “This family have been exceptional tenants, having fled persecution and made a new life here. I am also aware that they have been consistent in paying a contribution to the council towards their rent. Frankly, I initially planned to sell the house when I gave notice last year but now there are essential civil works that must be carried out.”
He added: “The real problem is the rental climate is broken here in rural Ireland as well as in the cities. The RAS and HAP [Housing Assistance Payment] payments are substantially below the market rate and the demand side has far outstripped the supply.”
Independent councillor Michael Kilcoyne told The Irish Times at the weekend that after sustained advocacy on behalf of the family Mayo County Council “at the eleventh hour” they may have sourced a house for them”. Meanwhile, the landlord has extended the eviction notice until the end of the week.