The number of refugees and asylum seekers entering the direct provision system in Ireland increased in the months leading up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, new figures show.
There were 6,273 asylum seekers in the system last month, a 4.5 per cent increase over the total (6,004) at the end of 2020, the Department of Equality and Integration said.
The total had previously fallen by almost 1,000 in 2020, in a trend attributed to borders being closed during a period of tight Covid restrictions.
The figures, supplied by Minister for Equality and Integration Roderic O’Gorman to Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín, cover the period up to the end of February – Russia’s invasion began on February 24th.
More than 9,000 Ukrainian refugees had arrived into the State by the weekend – and this number could rise to as much as 100,000, according to official estimates – although Minister for Justice Helen McEntee says “no cap” has been put on the figure.
The additional numbers could have repercussions for the Government’s White Paper to end direct provision by 2024. Mr O’Gorman has set out plans for six purpose-built reception centres (with own-door accommodation) where asylum seekers will stay for the first four months.
The White Paper sets out that people will then be accommodated in independent own-door (as opposed to communal) accommodation in towns and cities across the country.
Of the 6,273 people in direct provision in February, a total of 455 were in the national reception centre in Balseskin, Dublin, and a further 656 in Mosney, Co Meath, the State’s biggest direct provision centre.
There have been some changes, however. Over the past two to three years a number of apartment complexes or student accommodation buildings have been used as accommodation for asylum seekers. These new centres include Port Road apartments in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, which has 252 people staying there; Dominick Street apartments in Galway (110); and the Carraig Accommodation Centre in Co Leitrim which has 105 people staying there.
Mr Tóibín said he was concerned that notwithstanding the plans to end direct provision, he believed not enough was being done for those living in temporary accommodation.
“What we see in these figures is that despite Government promises to end the system, the number of people living in direct provision has increased in the last year,” he said.
“It is vital that the human rights of asylum seekers are upheld, and that there are checks and controls in place regarding living conditions while the Government is dismantling the system.”
He called for the decision-making process to be speeded up and called for more transparency on the companies who own the accommodation centres. The Government recently disclosed that it has paid a total of €1.6 billion to the owners of such centres in the 20 years since the system was introduced.