The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has raised concerns about the issue of homelessness among international protection applicants in Ireland and says the State may not be meeting the minimum requirements under European law.
Dunja Mijatović called for a “whole of government approach” to solve the problem, saying the “broad range” of the Department for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth means it “is not in the position to address all the issues that appear relevant to secure a holistic response alone.”
In a letter sent to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman and Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, Ms Mijatović raised concerns that, due to the current housing crisis, Ireland “may very well also fall short of the minimum standards under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
In recent months, over 900 international protection applicants have found themselves homeless in Ireland, according to the commissioner. Coming in the context of a wider housing crisis, Ms Mijatović warned that the situation “may contribute to a nascent anti-refugee sentiment across the country which has led to several worrying incidents.”
The commissioner also expressed concern over the disparity of treatment between those fleeing the war in Ukraine and international protections from elsewhere.
“While I welcome the fact that Ukrainian beneficiaries of temporary protection are usually moved into more permanent and independent types of accommodation after a few days, I understand that international protection applicants with children tend to be housed in inadequate and overcrowded transit conditions for extended periods of time,” said Ms Mijatović.
The letter, which was sent to the Taoiseach and Minister for Integration on May 17th, is the first public communication on Ireland’s homeless asylum seeker crisis from a senior European official. The Council of Europe is home to the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.
Ms Mijatović acknowledged that the ongoing accommodation issue comes “against the background of a broader housing crisis that has been affecting a growing number of Irish families,” while she welcomed the decision of March 2023 to provide more funding to the International Protection Accommodation Service to “refurbish available buildings and create new emergency accommodation centres.”
The commissioner noted the High Court decision from April 21st that the sate’s failure provide accommodation, food and basic hygiene facilities to a newly-arrived international protection applicant from Afghanistan was unlawful, breaching Ireland’s responsibilities under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the EU Reception Conditions Directive.
Ms Mijatović asked Mr Varadkar, Mr O’Gorman and Mr O’Brien to inform her of the steps being taken by the state to address the unmet needs of international protection applicants sleeping on Ireland’s streets.
In his response, the Taoiseach acknowledged that there were 199 homeless asylum seekers in the country as of May 23rd. He said that work is ongoing to find accommodation options, but that “the Government recognises that the current situation falls short of what is required and is working tirelessly to deal with the problem.”
Mr Varadkar said that Ireland “will continue its all-of-government approach” to solving the humanitarian crisis. He said that the International Protection Procurement Service has located 5,880 beds this year for asylum seekers and that in the first 20 weeks of this year, 3,600 international protection applicants have sought accommodation from the state.
The Taoiseach said that the 83,000 Ukrainians offered protection by the state represents “two per cent of all temporary protections granted across 27 EU Member States, plus Norway, lceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and equivalent to 1.6 per cent of our total population.”
Mr Varadkar acknowledged that the “substantial numbers” arriving to Ireland has had the “unavoidable” effect of delaying the implementation of the 2021 white paper to end direct provision.
Mr Varadkar also said that Irish communities have shown “great solidarity” to asylum seekers entering the country, and that attempts to create division were the acts of a “small minority.”
He recognised the need to communicate with communities where asylum seeker accommodation centres are opened, saying that the Government “is working to develop a more effective method of sharing the necessary information.”
Speaking in Cork on Friday, Minister for Finance Michael McGrath said: “We recognise our international and legal obligations and we are making progress in providing accommodation for the international protection seekers.
“It isn’t acceptable to us that in some cases accommodation has not been available, it’s just a measure of the strain and the stress the system is under.
“We are currently accommodating about 85,000 at this stage between Ukrainians and international protection applicants and the number without accommodation has fallen significantly because extra accommodation has been brought on stream and we will continue to pursue all avenues to provide accommodation and meet our international applications.”