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On Monday morning, Eric Nkomazana was squatting on the ground and rubbing his soapy hands together.
There was a bottle of water, a tube of shower gel and a sleeping bag on a few scattered pieces of cardboard at his feet.
Along a laneway on the grounds of the International Protection Office (IPO) on Mount Street Lower, two shabby tents, a suitcase and plastic bags were pitched next to Nkomazana’s belongings.
The tents are home to a few other asylum seekers. Nkomazana is not sure how many, he said.
The IPO staff had called Gardaí on another man who’d pitched up a tent nearby last month – saying he was blocking the entrance – but Nkomazana’s sleeping bag and the other tents are further away from the office’s doors.
Nkomazana, who arrived in Ireland last Monday, has been homeless since, he said.
“There is no accommodation for men, so I keep emailing them, emailing them, I’m just waiting for them to give me accommodation,” said Nkomazana, soap foam dripping from his fingers.
The Department of Children and Equality and its International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) – which is in charge of housing asylum seekers and refugees – has had trouble housing non-Ukrainian asylum seekers, especially single men like Nkomazana.
But even when there are not enough Ukrainian refugees to fill the accommodation centres contracted for them, IPAS can’t house asylum seekers from elsewhere in those places, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
In a departmental “situation report” from 22 February, officials at the Department of Children and Equality wrote that “ample” accommodation was available for Ukrainians as their numbers had been lower than they had forecasted.
But they also mention how asylum seekers, who come from other countries besides Ukraine, had been stuck at Citywest where new asylum-seekers and refugees used to get processed and waited for accommodation for many weeks – and tensions were running high among them.
Previous internal departmental documents show that accommodation providers can choose whether they accept Ukrainian refugees (“Beneficiaries of Temporary Protection”) or asylum seekers (“International Protection applicants”).
“Contacting current and potential providers to see if any will flip from [Beneficiaries of Temporary Protection] to [International Protection applicants] for a short period,” says a departmental situation report from 20 January.
A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Equality hasn’t yet responded to queries sent on Friday, including why some accommodation providers can only accept Ukrainian refugees and whether that counts as illegal discrimination under the Equal Status Acts.
Men in Search of Space
On Monday, Stanley Ekeoba, towering over the squatting Nkomazana, said he has been sleeping on chairs in Citywest for the past two months.
Ekeoba, who also came to Ireland alone, said he doesn’t want to complain, but his body aches from sleeping on chairs for so long.
“I was even sick as a result of sleeping on chairs,” he said.
The Department of Children and Equality stopped processing asylum seekers at Citywest in late January.
In their January situation reports officials at the department mention that single men had been sleeping on chairs at the Citywest transit hub since November 2022.
In February, they mentioned that IPO staff had still been telling homeless asylum seekers who show up at the IPO’s door to go to Citywest.
“Will work with IPAS regarding [asylum seekers] not initially offered accommodation being subsequently told by IPO that they can go to [Citywest Transit Hub],” says a departmental situation report from 1 February.
Nkomazana, the homeless man, said he had slept along the laneway at the IPO on Sunday night.
Other nights he’d been sleeping rough near Smithfield to stay close to Bow Street, where he goes to Capuchin Day Centre for homeless people, to bathe and eat, he said.
“Fifteen minutes for shower, 20 minutes for eating,” said Nkomazana later that day, waiting to cross the street to join the queue outside the day centre.
While IPAS struggles to find accommodation providers willing to house asylum-seeking men who come here alone, single men may also face more difficulty keeping their beds.
Mohamed Tienti has been homeless for 40 days, he said, sitting outside the IPO office on Monday.
He was forced to leave a city hostel without any prior notice because he complained that some of his clothes were missing after he handed them over to laundry staff, he says.
“The manager said ‘I’m not responsible, I’m fed up with all of you,’” said Tienti.
He was forced out for alleged poor behaviour a week after the centre’s deputy general manager gave him a good character reference letter.
Tienti has been an “upstanding resident and has not come to the attention of our security department in any way since his arrival”, says the letter.
He has been writing to IPAS and asking for a new bed and explaining that he was unexpectedly thrown out, but he’s still homeless, he said.
“Still outside doing nothing, I don’t know, how are they protecting me if I’m outside and not under their protection?” said Tienti.
Tienti had turned to the Irish Refugee Council for help too. A caseworker from the non-profit wrote to IPAS on his behalf, saying he was entitled to a review of the decision for eviction, and that he should be allowed back into the hostel for now.
“In the alternative we request that Mr Tienti is re-accommodated as a matter of urgency,” the caseworker wrote.
A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Equality has not yet responded to queries asking if centre managers could evict residents without due process.
In February, officials at the Department of Children and Equality had expressed frustration about the difficulties of finding space for asylum-seeking men who’d come here alone.
“Single male accommodation is difficult to source,” says a departmental situation report from 21 February.
Another one from 23 February suggests that IPAS is considering placing asylum seekers on a cruise ship as one option.
More than Words
Meanwhile, harmful stereotypes about single asylum-seeking men, which portray them as more prone to violence, keep circulating on anti-immigrant Telegram channels and media outlets.
It’s unclear if hateful messaging plays any role in accommodation providers’ decision not to house them, though.
A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Equality has not yet responded to queries sent on Monday asking if anti-immigrant rallies and the spread of harmful stereotypes online have made finding accommodation for single men more difficult.
Ekeoba, the man who is sleeping on chairs at the transit hub in Citywest, says although he’s happy and grateful for not sleeping rough, it’s befuddling to run into Ukrainian refugees who are housed in Citywest’s hotel building.
“Because Ukraine is Europe, Ukraine is White, because we are Black,” he said, pointing at the skin of his right hand.
“That’s what I think. They treat them very well; special,” he said.
Well yeah, Ukraine is in Europe, who are being devastated the men are in Ukraine defending their homeland as their women and children are here, where these 2 lads from? Why wasn’t it mentioned? Why don’t they mention what they’re fleeing from? Why Ireland and not any other single country in Africa, genuine question.
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