Taoiseach vows action after Council of Europe criticises lack of accommodation for asylum applicants

Commissioner Dunja Mijatović wrote to say that reception conditions for international protection applicants have been inadequate since summer 2022. Photo: Council of Europe

Cillian Sherlock

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the Government is committed to implement “necessary measures” for international protection applicants after the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights raised concerns about Ireland’s response.

In a letter last week, Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic wrote to Mr Varadkar and the ministers for integration and housing, Roderic O’Gorman and Darragh O’Brien, to say that reception conditions for international protection applicants have been inadequate since summer 2022.

She said she was “concerned” about the early 2023 decision to only offer emergency accommodation to applicants with children, which she said is reported to have left more than 900 applicants, including some who may be minors, in street homelessness.

Ms Mijatovic acknowledged this was done in exceptional circumstances but said it may fall short of the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The exposure of often traumatised and vulnerable individuals to cold, rain, hunger, and distress has serious consequences for their human rights.”

She called on the Taoiseach to outline what steps Irish authorities were taking to address the unmet needs of migrants.

“Ongoing efforts to secure accommodation within an emergency context do not absolve the Government of its obligations and the provision of the applicant with a voucher and a referral to private charity organisations is not an adequate response.”

The commissioner said the situation warrants a “reconsideration of some of the more structural shortcomings” of the international protection system, including Direct Provision.

She added: “I am concerned about the reported differences in treatment afforded to people fleeing the war in Ukraine and those fleeing war and atrocities elsewhere, even where the latter are provided with accommodation.”

She said it was her understanding that international protection applicants with children tend to be housed in inadequate and overcrowded transit conditions for extended periods of time.

Ms Mijatovic said efforts to refurbish buildings for emergency accommodation “fall short of a comprehensive resolution to the crisis at hand”.

In the government response on Thursday, Mr Varadkar described the situation as “extremely challenging”.

“Due to the sheer scale of the numbers arriving, in the midst of a pre-existing housing shortage in Ireland, there have been particular difficulties in sourcing sufficient amounts of accommodation to meet the increased demand.”

The Taoiseach accepted the response falls short of what is required, adding that the Government is “working tirelessly to deal with the problem”.

He told the commissioner that Ireland has seen an “unprecedented number” of arrivals since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as those seeking international protection.

He said Ireland had granted temporary protection to 83,000 people affected by the invasion which is 2pc of the total access granted by the EU plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.

He said it is equivalent to 1.6pc of Ireland’s total population.

“Over 64,390 of these have sought accommodation provided by the State.

“Furthermore, 20,500 persons are being accommodated by the International Protection Accommodation Service (Ipas) as of May 14, 2023.”

After outlining a range of measures taken by the International Protection Procurement Service to procure hotels, offices, and student accommodation, Mr Varadkar said demand has consistently outstripped supply.

“As of May 23, there were 199 persons to whom Ipas has been unable to offer accommodation.”

He said the use of three additional properties in Dublin will “shortly” bring in almost 400 additional bed spaces.

“I can assure you that Ireland will continue its whole-of-government approach to the ongoing humanitarian crisis and, in particular, to sourcing all forms of suitable accommodation.”