A restructuring plan is needed for refugees in Ireland

Theo McDonald

The desperate plight of refugees and migrants requires rethinking our current system

Over 12,000 people applied for asylum in Ireland last year. This represents an over 400 per cent year-on-year increase according to the Department of Justice’s annual immigration statistics. The majority of applicants are Georgian and African.

On top of this massive influx, 2022 saw over 60,000 Ukrainian refugees enter Ireland following Russia’s brutal invasion of the country in February. At the start of the new year, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the State was “not in a position to guarantee accommodation to everyone who arrives in the country”, adding, “that’s just the reality of the situation.” 

During the blistering cold spell in December last year, when temperatures hit -5, their lowest level since the ‘big freeze’ of 2010, over 100 migrants were hunkered down in makeshift tents in Co Clare. Each tent, erected by the defence forces in July, accommodated eight people.

The tents were situated adjacent to a direct provision centre in Knockalisheen, and with no access to bathroom facilities, the migrants were forced to use the centre when going to the toilet or washing as outdoor conditions were too damp. 

Following this harrowing predicament, described as “inhumane” by local TD Cathal Crowe, Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman, whose department oversees Ireland’s response to Ukrainian refugees and reforming direct provision, promised such scenes would not be repeated with most of those in tents moved subsequently.

However, earlier this month it was revealed that over 80 migrants were still being placed in tents in Knockalisheen, Meelick, Co Clare. 

As of January 2023 over 70,000 migrants and refugees are being accommodated by the State with the vast bulk of those coming from Ukraine. 

Following the government’s appeal to households across the country to open their doors to those fleeing war in Eastern Europe, over 20,000 pledges were made to the Irish Red Cross (IRC).

However, following the IRC’s examination of pledges, which included Garda vetting of households, only 10 per cent of homes were approved. As such, several Ukrainians were forced into similar conditions faced by those applying for international protection. 

Over 500 hotels across the country are accommodating Ukrainians with many facing abject conditions. A note from the department of integration, accessed through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, stated that many refugees are not served food on-site and must walk 1km to a nearby town in order to be fed; indeed, inside the hotel, the report noted a number of issues such as bad ventilation and windowless rooms with some having no storage capacity for clothes. 

Currently, one in seven hotels are being used as temporary settlement for refugees and asylum seekers. With tourism still not having reached pre-pandemic levels, 14 per cent of hotels are unavailable for tourists as a result of contracts entered into between the State and hoteliers to accommodate the recent arrivals.

Earlier this year the State booked the brand new €100 million, 393-bedroom Travelodge Plus hotel in Dublin City centre until the summer. 

A Travelodge hotel in Ballymun was the scene of protests and rallies held by community activists and right-wing parties recently following the admittance of 221 IP applicants. Activists claimed the local community was not given notice of the scheme.

Recent protests against migrant and refugee settlements began in Kill, Co Kildare in November last year when an equestrian site was designated as suitable to accommodate several Ukrainian refugees. This was followed by a similar protest in East Wall in inner city Dublin after an old ESB building was chosen to host 100 migrants.

Since then, other protests have sprung up in several inner city communities in Dublin with one protest seeing Dublin Mid-West TD Gino Kenny getting into an altercation with a protestor. 

With tensions boiling in local communities and asylum seekers and refugees facing dire conditions when entering Ireland suggestions to fast-track asylum applicants have been made by current and former stakeholders.

A former senior official in the Department of Justice, who oversaw the State’s admittance of Syrian refugees in 2015, told The College View that more resources must be made available to the processing unit at the department in order to prioritise those fleeing war.

The former civil servant, who oversaw the State’s admittance of Syrian refugees in 2015 and wishes to remain anonymous, mentions that while all asylum seekers, regardless of their origin, must be treated with diligence the system for processing applicants should be improved. 

One suggestion made is to increase the number of case officers in order to deal with a large number of applicants currently in the system.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said recently that applications must be processed “much more quickly” to ensure that ‘genuine refugees’ and those entitled to international protection can get approval quicker, adding that those who are not entitled to such status can “get a decision in the negative as quickly as possible because that’s important too in terms of the integrity of our system.” 

Varadkar, who returned to the Taoiseach’s office late last year as part of the rotating arrangement with his predecessor Micheál Martin, promised: “more robust border controls to make sure that people aren’t able to enter the country illegally because the vast majority of people who come here from overseas do so legally.”

Theo McDonald

Image credit: PA images