Ireland’s housing shortage is putting refugees and the homeless in desperate need

Thousands of Irish renters are at risk of eviction from next month, fueling a housing crisis that has spread to refugees and asylum-seekers seeking shelter in the country.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, whose government imposed a winter ban on forced evictions from June 1.

The stark admission comes as the nation of 5.1 million people grapples with record homelessness and the challenge of providing shelter to Ukrainian refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries.

“Now we are taking in 58,000 Ukrainians and 20,000 people under international protection. Housing is under real pressure,” said Integration Minister Roderic O’Gorman.

Fringe far-right groups have taken up the housing crisis and organized infrequent protests, some with banners proclaiming “Ireland is full”. Racist attacks on migrants have also damaged Ireland’s socially progressive image.

With the housing crisis expected to deepen this year, pundits and renters say a wave of evictions would put pressure on emergency services, which are already stretched to the breaking point. According to the latest official data, 11,754 people – almost a third of them children – needed emergency shelter at the end of January.

Sinn Féin, the opposition group, Ireland’s most popular party and pro-housing campaigner, says 10,000 people could be displaced this year. She has urged the government to “show some compassion” and reintroduce the ban on evictions.

The government said more than half of the eviction notices issued last fall fell due during the ban, meaning most of those tenants would be safe. But it admitted more than 2,000 people who were warned last year could still be asked to leave their homes.

The ban was imposed last October to prevent landlords from evicting tenants amid the cost-of-living crisis. Ministers had intended the eviction ban only as a temporary measure, saying lifting it would protect landlords who are, for example, faced with rent arrears or looking to sell their property.

To make matters worse, some hoteliers are considering taking back government-contracted rooms to accommodate Ukrainian refugees.

Such deals can be lucrative during the winter break, but some hotels, particularly in urban areas, may earn more by returning to tourism in the peak season that starts next month, experts say.

In January, Ireland even went so far as to appeal social media that refugees don’t come when they are in a safe place because there is no more room for them. About 2,000 fewer Ukrainian refugees arrived this month than in December, one of the largest falls in the EU.

The situation is even worse for non-Ukrainian asylum seekers. Integration Secretary O’Gorman had to appeal to his colleagues to find sports, arts, conference and student recreation centers and other halls “where cots, mattresses and sleeping bags” could be placed to meet the unprecedented demand.

Dozens of applicants have recently been housed in tents, despite previous government pledges to find adequate housing for all.

The number of asylum seekers in state shelters rose 150 per cent to nearly 20,000 in early February, from 8,000 in early 2022. Last year, Ireland received a record 13,651 asylum applications; the previous high was 11,634 in 2002. In January, applications for international protection – including a large number of people from Algeria, Nigeria, Georgia, Somalia and Zimbabwe – rose 234 percent from the same period last year.

The rising numbers sparked social tensions in a country not known for far-right extremism and where one in eight was foreign-born.

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

A poll by Ireland Thinks last month found that 56 per cent of respondents thought the country was taking in too many refugees.

To show their support, around 50,000 people held a rally against racism in the Irish capital last month. Varadkar said that “refugees are welcome,” and the country’s President Michael D. Higgins condemned those who “sow hatred and build fear” around people in need of protection.

John Lannon, chief executive of Doras, an independent non-profit group campaigning for migrants’ rights, said the asylum shelter system was “hopelessly broken”.

In a country marked by emigration to escape famine and economic hardship, “more can be done . . . to do what has been done for Irish people around the world: give them a fresh start,” he said. Ireland’s housing shortage is putting refugees and the homeless in desperate need

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