Analysis: What effect will the Government’s scattergun approach to managing migrants have?

A chaotic system involving the Department of Justice, the Department of Integration and the HSE is struggling to cope with increased demand

A few weeks ago, a man presented at the International Protection Office (IPO) on Mount Street in Dublin to file his asylum claim and said he had a fever.

His temperature was taken by an on-site nurse and, following a brief assessment, he was sent to an emergency department where he was examined for symptoms of malaria.

On the face of it, the process was well-organised. In reality, the set-up is chaotic.

The man checked himself out of the hospital before doctors confirmed he did not have malaria and was not carrying an infectious disease. No follow-up arrangements had been made with the man, and he disappeared.


With three separate bodies – the Department of Justice, the Department of Integration and the HSE – all collecting names and numbers, and an overworked team of health professionals tasked with assessing hundreds of individuals, the system failed.

In spite of the Taoiseach’s recent assurances of a ‘multi-agency response’ and ‘Team Ireland’ making real progress, the reality for those at the coalface is starkly different

The lack of dedicated clinical space at the IPO, where this man should have been effectively assessed and registered, is just one example of Ireland’s rapidly deteriorating immigration system.

In spite of the Taoiseach’s recent assurances of a “multi-agency response” and “Team Ireland” making real progress, the reality for those at the coalface is starkly different.

“We don’t have a clinical set-up at the IPO to deal with this,” said one health professional, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We should have routine, robust health at the point of entry but there’s no follow-up plan.”

HSE staff appointed to the IPO have not been given additional funding or resources to fully assess new arrivals and have witnessed vulnerable men being sent back out on the streets, the health professional said.

Between 60 and 80 people are now triaged for health screening each day, compared with 15 individuals per day last December.

This health professional believes the decision not to classify migrants as homeless is a strategy.

“It’s the idea that they don’t have the same rights and entitlements as our own homeless. What’s happening now to the people in tents could have happened during the Ukrainian crisis but it didn’t,” said the source.

“This is a political choice. We opened every community centre and pulled out all the stops for the Ukrainians. But not for these men.”

The Department of Integration says “every effort is being made to source additional accommodation” in the context of an “extremely challenging” environment and local opposition to new centres opening.

Yet a veteran working in the field of migration policy and support, preferring to speak anonymously, says the presence of tents around the city centre sends a “very convenient PR message to the general public” that the Government is not helping these men.

It “reinforces the idea that men are the problem” and feeds into stereotypes that have been gaining ground across Europe for over a decade, the expert adds.

The hardening rhetoric used by some politicians, including the Taoiseach’s commitment that tents would not be “allowed to fester”, is a calculated policy decision, the migration expert argues.

This language “sets the parameters for the wider discourse in society” and colours how Irish people understand this country, says Veronica Crosbie, chairwoman of Places of Sanctuary Ireland, a group that supports asylum seekers, and former chairwoman of the Dublin City University MA in Refugee Integration.

The word “fester” should be “embedded in our own DNA when we think back to this country’s history of slums”. Ireland’s support for Palestinians in Gaza stems from this memory of our own suffering, she says. However, “you would have thought we’d be more compassionate for people who are suffering here, in Ireland”.

Leaving male asylum seekers to pitch a tent on the side of the road “is symbolic of people being on the margins, of shanty towns”, she says. Ireland’s two-tier support system for those fleeing conflict or persecution, created in the wake of the war in Ukraine, further “vilifies” these men.

“It was the current Government who set up that ranking system,” says Dr Crosbie. “That creates the effect that some people are more deserving than others. Now they’re proposing to give Ukrainian refugees less, but they created this mess in the first place.”

Taoiseach Simon Harris took a more measured approach in his descriptions this week when he spoke of “vulnerable people” in tents and his resolve to ensure a “multiagency response” would continue with “no buck passing” or “siloed mentality”. A spokesperson for the Taoiseach underlined that “453 human beings” had been “taken off the streets to safe shelter” since Mr Harris entered office and that the Fine Gael leader’s “overall message” is that Ireland’s asylum system should be “compassionate and commonsense”.

But, with about 50 tents pitched along the Grand Canal on Friday morning, and 1,780 men awaiting an offer of accommodation, the Government will now face the legal implications of leaving men out on the streets.

In just under a fortnight, the High Court will hear the case brought by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) that the State is failing to meet international protection applicants’ basic needs. For the first time, the IHREC has brought this potentially landmark case in its own name because of the “gravity of the situation” and the “destitution” faced by those sleeping rough.

The High Court will assess whether the State has failed to fulfil its legal obligation to provide shelter, food and access to basic hygiene facilities and whether, as a result, it is breaching the human rights of these people.

The Taoiseach’s announcement that all refugee and asylum seeker supports will be reviewed indicates the Government is firmly considering a new direction for asylum policy. It would appear there are votes to be won with a change of direction; this week’s Irish Times/Ipsos B&A opinion poll revealed almost two thirds of voters now favour a more closed immigration policy.

The challenge facing the Government on immigration policy as it deals with the current increase in the number of asylum seekers and migrants has parallels with the period before the establishment of the direct provision system 24 years ago.

Two decades of work by civil society groups to improve conditions for asylum seekers have also been shelved in a matter of weeks, says Dr Veronica Crosbie.

While already operating as a pilot scheme, the decision to formally implement direct provision as a national scheme in April 2000 was hastily carried out in response to a range of pressures, including UK legislative changes and warnings from European bodies that Ireland’s welfare provision was “serving as a magnet”. Two decades on and the Government is again rapidly implementing changes, in large part because of controversial immigration polices unfolding across the Irish Sea.

“Direct provision was introduced in a policy panic, a sense that we’ve got to do something fast,” says the migration expert. Two decades on, the State risks repeating history by hastily implementing changes rather than creating “well-designed policies for minorities”.

“My worry here is this is a short-term effort at getting votes, setting a direction that we won’t be able to come back from,” says the source.

Two decades of work by civil society groups to improve conditions for asylum seekers have also been shelved in a matter of weeks, says Dr Crosbie.

“We were heading the right direction, back to a system where people would be given social supports and reclaim that sense of dignity and agency that is so vital for human beings.

“But now I look at the tents and I hear this narrative of law and order. The Government has gone into free-fall management; it’s a total shambles.”

In reply to queries from The Irish Times, the Department of Justice said that in response to the increase in the number of international protection applicants and space constraints at the IPO, it opened a second processing site - for families with children - at Citywest in early April.

The HSE said there was a “coordinated response at the IPO” and that people identified as having specific medical needs by International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) through their vulnerability assessment are referred to a migrant health team.