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Joint Statement by Civil Society on Homeless International Protection Applicants

May 29, 2024
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People with Suitcases walking away

We are individuals and organisations working and volunteering across the spectrum of Irish civil society. We include representatives from the housing and homelessness sectors, law and medicine, human rights and civil liberties, volunteers from the local community and the community development sector. We are deeply concerned by the situation of all people experiencing homelessness without shelter, including international protection applicants in this horrific position. There are currently 1,939 international protection applicants who the state has failed to accommodate. There is a risk women and children may not be accommodated in the future.

This traumatic and unacceptable situation must be immediately addressed with an appropriate humanitarian response regardless of a person’s nationality or status. Homelessness is always unsafe, detrimental to physical and mental health, and can lead to prolonged negative health outcomes. We believe and insist that Ireland can and must do better to find solutions to this crisis.

By law, everyone has the right to apply for international protection from persecution or serious harm in their home country. The State has legal obligations to provide for the basic needs of international protection applicants, including the provision of shelter, food and access to basic hygiene facilities.

We are very concerned about the situation of unaccommodated international protection applicants forced first to reside in tents in and around the International Protection Office and who then were ordered to disperse. As of 28 May, 50 or 60 tents now line the Grand Canal in Dublin. As long as this crisis continues, people will continue to congregate, primarily for safety. Only the provision of accommodation, in line with the state’s legal obligations, will prevent a recurrence.

We reject the politicising of this issue and the scapegoating of vulnerable people seeking protection. Continued failure by this Government to effectively address this issue, while threatening arrest for those sleeping in tents, damages the health of people forced into homelessness, threatens the credibility of Ireland’s international protection process, and gives fuel to the far-right.

In December 2023, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission sought a High Court declaration that the State's failure to provide for the basic needs of international protection applicants is in breach of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Irish Constitution. It also sought an order "requiring the Minister to provide material reception conditions, including accommodation, and/or sufficient financial assistance to meet the basic needs of applicants". The case is before the High Court today.

In April 2023, the High Court declared the state’s failure to provide two international protection applicants with “material reception conditions” was a breach of their rights under the Reception Conditions Directive. Mr Justice Meenan also declared that the applicants’ fundamental right to Human Dignity under Article 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union had been breached. In November 2023, Mr Justice Ferriter heard two separate lead cases, SA and RJ, on the issues of damages for the same breaches of Irish and EU law. The State argued that the failure to provide material reception needs arose from a situation of "force majeure". Mr Justice Ferriter referred the issue of whether damages were appropriate in such circumstances to the CJEU while emphasising that "the State remains under a continuing, mandatory obligation to provide international protection applicants with basic needs including accommodation on an uninterrupted basis from the point at which qualifying persons apply for international protection.”

Political will and a truly all-of-government effort are needed to address the joint crises of homelessness among international protection applicants and in homelessness and housing more generally. Anxiety and anger about increasing inequality in our society has caused a rupture centred on immigration, and particularly aimed at those seeking protection. We appeal to the Government to do all it can to stop this avoidable crisis becoming magnified in the public’s perception and used as a scapegoat for legacy issues. We call on the public to come together to demand better for everyone in Ireland.  

We call on government to:

  • Provide people who are street homeless with safe and secure accommodation. We believe that no person in Ireland should be homeless.
  • In the interim, ensure the financial package of support meets the needs of people who are homeless. A weekly payment of €113.80  is insufficient to live on. Supplementary Welfare Allowance is not sufficient to cover hostels and cannot cover privately sourced accommodation.
  • Conduct an audit on all state-owned land and property, including sites in more affluent areas.
  • Ensure communication with people experiencing homelessness is clear and goes beyond the currently overwhelmed International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) email address. This should include better communication to those who are not in tent encampments. Better communication is essential when people are being moved from encampments to IPAS accommodation. The current policy of destroying tents and moving people without forewarning or information on their new location is inappropriate.
  • Give international protection applicants who are homeless the option of postponing their asylum interview. No one sleeping on the street should be forced to undergo an interview covering traumatic life events.
  • Come up with an all-of-government response urgently. A need for oversight, cooperation and proper communication is critical, including in the identification of suitable sites for accommodation.
  • Reduce over-reliance on NGOs, homeless service providers and volunteers. Many of these organisations’ resources are already stretched.
  • Devise a communications plan to increase community understanding of international protection and our moral and legal obligations to people seeking protection. A much-anticipated communications plan has never come to pass. This has been replaced by the normalisation of fringe terms and conspiracy, fear and frustration and is not acceptable. Local representatives and communities can feel alienated when they do not receive adequate information and communication.
  • Address growing areas of inequality in our society, such as in housing and health. There is no excuse that a country as wealthy and well-resourced as Ireland sees almost 14,000 people homeless, in addition to the homelessness facing international protection applicants.

 

Signatories:

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