Accommodating asylum seekers: ‘Lurching from encampment crisis to encampment crisis is a gift to the far right’

This week’s clearance on Dublin’s Grand Canal was evidence of a more co-ordinated approach by authorities but there is still little sign of a longer-term accommodation solution

It took little over an hour on Thursday morning to clear the banks of Dublin’s Grand Canal of more than 150 homeless men and their tents.

From around 6am scores of personnel, from a multiplicity of agencies, began the swift operation. Led by workers from Waterways Ireland (WI), which has responsibility for the canal network, the process of “knocking” on tents began at 6.45am. Moving in twos and accompanied by gardaí, staff woke men with news they were required to leave. And if they came back they faced arrest.

More gardaí gathered at both Huband and Mount Street bridges looking on, as HSE medics waited further back with more doctors on standby from the Safetynet charity in their van across at Mount Street Crescent.

Staff from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) were on hand as social workers from the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) handed out A4 pages with information explaining what was going on. Translated into French, Arabic, Georgian and Urdu the message explained all asylum seekers at the canal would be offered accommodation. It was not translated into Pashto, spoken by Afghans who comprised a significant number of the men.


“We will need to see your Temporary Resident Card (‘blue card’) and then you should gather your personal belongings and get on to the bus which will bring you to your accommodation,” said the note. “You do not need to bring your tent. It will be disposed of for health and safety reasons. At the accommodation, you will be safe and there will be food and hygiene facilities and IPAS will be able to provide you with support.

“You do not have permission to stay on canal property beside the Grand Canal in Dublin,” it continued. “You are committing an offence. If you refuse to come to the available accommodation or you later return to stay in this area you may be moved on by An Garda Síochána (police) and you may be arrested and prosecuted.”

By 7am, the first of five coaches was leaving Warrington Place for a former HSE-owned nursing home site in Crooksling in southwest Dublin. The men did not know where they were going, but most seemed content to leave.

“Yes I am happy,” said one man, as he ran towards the coaches. “No, I don’t know,” he said, when asked if he knew where he was going. A Palestinian man in his 40s had been woken “early in the morning”. He continued: “They said, ‘You are moving’. I don’t know where but it is better than here. I have been in Ireland now two weeks.”

Others were less pleased with developments. “We don’t want to go to Crooksling,” said one of four young Afghan men. “We were there. We don’t see nothing there. We want to go city somewhere.” He said he and his friends had just been asked to produce their ‘blue cards’. “We said we don’t want to show our card, we don’t want to go to Crooksling.” The men gathered their belongings and walked away from the area.

WI workers collected the more than 100 tents that had been provided to the men by Department of Children and Integration-funded charities – to be gathered into trucks with mechanical grabbers for disposal “on public health grounds”, according to a Government spokesman. Steel fencing, similar to that erected around the International Protection Office (IPO) premises after the May 3rd clearance to prevent tents being pitched, was immediately erected along the canal.

‘The clear-up has to happen but they have to find somewhere for all of them because, sooner or later, someone will be killed in their tent’

By 7.50am both banks were cleared, leaving no indication anyone had been living along their grassy verges.

In all, 163 men were brought to tented accommodation in Crooksling (148) and the former Central Mental Hospital (15) in Dundrum.

During the process a man driving a passing van shouted from his window: “Go the f**k home”. Pedestrian passersby showed more sympathy but were generally glad to see the tents cleared.

Jim Farrell, in his 60s and walking his dog, was typical. “I am happy for the local residents and businesses that they have been moved but I am sorry in another way that they have to do it,” he said. “They have to start processing the asylum seekers faster and outside the city centre. It does appear the Government are making it up by the day, and making excuses when they say they have no places, then moving people from place to place to make space.

“The clear-up has to happen but they have to find somewhere for all of them because, sooner or later, someone will be killed in their tent.”

The completion of the morning clearance within 70 minutes, compared with the over three-hour durations of similar clearances from around the IPO – on May 3rd; on March 16th in advance of St Patrick’s Day, and the chaotic, lengthy process in freezing rain and at night when 160 men were bussed to a night’s shelter during snow in early March.

Far higher numbers of personnel conducted the canal clearance.

Olivia Headon, a student and former aid worker, has been voluntarily supporting homeless asylum seekers since March. She was present during the clearance and noted there appeared to be an awareness among some of the men, many of whom had been sleeping in locations away from the canal, that Thursday’s operation was imminent. Some slept at the canal on Wednesday for the first time.

Ali from Somalia spoke to The Irish Times by phone from Crooksling on Thursday afternoon. He said he had been sleeping “in O’Connell [Street]” for two months until Wednesday, when he read advice in a WhatsApp group to go to the canal. “It was so nice and fantastic for me. Canal is better than any of the places,” he said. “Finally, thanks to almighty God, at wake up at the canal they say they will bring us to accommodation. I am extremely happy.”

However, Nasir (20) and Khom (20), from Afghanistan, had been at the canal since last weekend but had gone “to use toilet and drink some coffee” early on Thursday. “We miss bus,” said Nasir, almost in tears on Thursday afternoon outside the IPO. The pair had returned to the office hoping to access accommodation as they lost their tents in the clearance. They said a security guard told them accommodation was a matter for the IPAS, located in the Department of Children and Integration on Baggot Street and contactable only by email. Nasir had emailed them twice before and received no reply, he said.

By Thursday evening, though, they had two more tents and sleeping bags from the Lighthouse charity, they did not know where they would sleep. “We are only two. We are scared to sleep only two,” said Nasir. “I am so worried. I wish, I will be glad to get some help with this situation.” (By Friday morning they were in a new camp a few hundred metres from the cleared one.)

Another man, Edgar (40), a graphic designer from Zimbabwe, was in a €25 a night hostel on Wednesday. By the time he rushed to the canal the last coach had left. “I was running with my bags. I am disappointed I missed this opportunity but I will never lose hope. I know the Government is trying as much you can to get people off the streets. I want to add value to the economy and send some money to home.”

They were among dozens of men, some of them teenagers, who did not get transport from the canal on Thursday, gathering their belongings and thoughts at the IPO by the afternoon. Many would bring tents to smaller camps already proliferating throughout the capital where they would feel greater vulnerability to attack, said Headon. “A lot were at the canal because of safety. People have been yelling racial abuse from their cars at the canal. But some people are more likely to be physically confrontational with smaller groups.”

Within hours of the canal clearance protests were being organised. “Protest @7pm tonight”, said one Facebook post. “Get the tents removed from the Eastlink. We need a big community presence there this evening to show the police that these tents need to go!!”

‘We are deeply concerned by any punitive action targeting disadvantaged and vulnerable groups’

Since December 4th, 2023, when the Department announced it would no longer offer accommodation to adult, single, male asylum seekers, numbers “awaiting offer of accommodation” have increased – to 1,825 this week. Since December, 3,062 “eligible males” have applied for asylum. Some 1,237 have subsequently been offered shelter – 300 of these following a “vulnerability triage”. Those in accommodation get meals and €38.80 per week. Those without accommodation get “a temporary increase of €75″ to €113.80 a week.

Dublin Simon operates the city’s rough-sleeper outreach team. It has seen a significant increase in international protection applicants (IPAs) sleeping rough, but has few pathways out of homelessness to offer. Asylum seekers are not entitled to housing supports and so are excluded from emergency beds provided by the City Council’s Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE).

“It is standard practice for our teams to contact the Department of Integration when we encounter an IP applicant sleeping rough. We are frustrated by the limited options available to us in supporting this group,” said a Simon spokeswoman.

“We are deeply concerned by any punitive action targeting disadvantaged and vulnerable groups,” she added, referencing the threat of arrest should any asylum seeker try to re-pitch a tent by the canal. “Such actions do nothing to tackle the root causes of disadvantage.”

Charities like the Lighthouse, Merchants Quay Ireland, the Capuchin Day Centre and the Mendicity Institution, all report large increases in homeless asylum seekers needing basics such as food, clothing, tents and sleeping bags, as well as medical and other practical supports, since January.

Richard King, manager of Crosscare’s migrant project and refugee service which provides information on accessing entitlements, saw a surge in numbers from 39 last December to 195 in January, 196 in February, followed by a fall-off in March to 47. “Some men are quite self-sufficient, others need a lot of support,” he said. “In almost all cases, though, we see a real deterioration in their wellbeing the longer they spend homeless.”

Speaking after Thursday’s clearance Taoiseach Simon Harris insisted the Government approach was stepping up a gear. The operation was “an example of agencies pulling together, people not operating in silos and of making real progress”.

He said “the days of people saying ‘that’s not my issue, that’s for that department, that’s for that agency’ – I don’t want to hear it ... This is Team Ireland and this is a real challenge we’re facing”.

Labour leader and local TD Ivana Bacik said she welcomed that the encampment was dismantled in what she described as “a very dignified and respectful way”.

But she described the Government’s approach to single, male asylum seekers as “a complete mess”. She noted the Government’s policy of refusing shelter would be before the High Court this month, in a legal challenge by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC). The State argues the enhanced payment of €113.80 is in lieu of accommodation.

“The current approach is causing misery to these men, it’s unsustainable and unacceptable for communities – albeit that there are brilliant local volunteers and residents supporting the men,” said Bacik. “It is a gift to the far right.”

She reiterated her call for implementation of last year’s recommendation of the three-person External Advisory Group (EAG), which advises Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman on ending direct provision, that emergency powers be used to provide six reception and integration centres by the end of this year.

“There is a sense now of more of a pulling-together of departments but it’s too slow,” she said. “More joined-up thinking, more leadership from the Taoiseach and long-term planning are all vital, instead of this lurching from encampment crisis to encampment crisis.”

Niamh McDonald, director of the Hope and Courage Collective, a national organisation working with communities to counter the far right, described Government treatment of male asylum seekers as “deliberately punitive ... to appease the far right”.

“The framing and messaging is to criminalise men seeking safety. Their criminalisation has been the wedge issue. Instead of having positive messaging and framing, with an accompanying plan for accommodation, we have this continuous rolling narrative of ‘men in tents’ ... ‘men by canals’ putting them constantly at the sharp edge of tougher migration policies.”