Ireland’s housing crisis is leaving refugees and homeless people in a desperate situation

Thousands of Irish tenants face the possibility of eviction from next month, exacerbating a housing crisis that has spread to refugees and asylum seekers seeking refuge in the country.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, whose government will lift the winter eviction ban from April 1, said Ireland is 250,000 homes short of the required number.

The stark admission comes as the nation of 5.1 million is grappling with record homelessness and the challenge of sheltering Ukrainian refugees and asylum seekers from other countries.

“We are now serving 58,000 Ukrainians and 20,000 persons under international protection. There is real pressure on housing,” said Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman.

Far-right groups seized on the housing crisis and staged rare protests, some with banners reading “Ireland is full”. Racist attacks on migrants have also damaged Ireland’s socially progressive image.

With the housing crisis expected to worsen this year, experts and tenants say the wave of evictions would put pressure on emergency services already at breaking point. According to the latest data, at the end of January, a record number of 11,754 people – nearly a third of them children – needed shelter. official data.

Sinn Féin, the opposition group which is Ireland’s most popular party and campaigner for housing, says 10,000 people could be evicted this year. He urged the government to “show compassion” and reinstate the eviction ban.

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According to the government, more than half of the eviction notices issued last fall fell during the ban, meaning that the majority of tenants will be safe. But he admitted that more than 2,000 people who were warned last year could still be told to leave their homes.

The ban was introduced last October to prevent landlords from evicting tenants during the livelihood crisis. Ministers saw the eviction ban as only a temporary measure and said lifting it would protect landlords who, for example, have rent arrears or want to sell their property.

Compounding the housing problem, some hoteliers are considering taking back rooms contracted by the government to house Ukrainian refugees.

Such contracts can be lucrative during the winter break, but some hotels, especially in urban areas, could earn more in the high season that starts next month if they return to tourism, experts say.

In January, Ireland went all the way to appeal social media so that refugees do not come when they are in a safe place, saying they have run out of space. About 2,000 Ukrainians less refugees arrived in that month than December, which is one of the highest decreases in the EU.

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The situation of non-Ukrainian asylum seekers is worse. Integration Minister O’Gorman had to ask colleagues to find sports, arts, conference and student leisure centers and any room “where camp beds, mattresses, sleeping bags” could be set up to meet the unprecedented demand.

Dozens of applicants have recently been relocated in tents, despite earlier promises from the government to find suitable accommodation for everyone.

The number of asylum seekers in government accommodation increased by 150 percent, to almost 20,000 at the beginning of February, from 8,000 at the beginning of 2022. Ireland received a record last year. 13,651 asylum applications; the previous peak was 11,634 in 2002. Applications for international protection surged in January, including large numbers of people from Algeria, Nigeria, Georgia, Somalia and Zimbabwe. 234 percent in the same period of the previous year.

The rising numbers have sparked social tensions in a country not known for far-right extremism and where one in eight people were born abroad.

Men armed with dogs, sticks and baseball bats attacked a migrant camp in Dublin in late January. At a recent demonstration in February, protesters were urged to “burn out” refugees “in the name of our culture.”

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An Ireland Thinks poll last month found that 56 percent of respondents thought the country had taken in too many refugees.

Last month, around 50,000 people held an anti-racism rally in the Irish capital. Varadkar said “refugees are welcome”.

On Thursday, Irish President Michael D Higgins praised migrants in a televised message ahead of St Patrick’s Day, which falls on March 17. Referring to the country’s patron saint, he said: “We must never forget the story of his life as a migrant. , is a reminder of the resilience and necessary courage of migrants and the contribution they have made and continue to make to the countries they call home.”

John Lannon, chief executive of Doras, an independent not-for-profit migrant rights group, said the refugee accommodation system appeared to be “hopelessly broken”.

In a country shaped by emigration to avoid famine and economic hardship, “more can be done . . . to do what they have done for the Irish around the world: give them a new start,” he said.