A coughing fit stops Shafinah Namirembe halfway through a sentence.

She reaches into a tote bag, pulls out a bottle of juice and drinks from it. She takes off her glasses and buries her face in her hands.

“Now you see this cough, it usually comes because of stress,” said Namirembe, sitting in the corner of the Burger King on O’Connell Street on Friday.

She used to cough like that a lot back when she was still in the asylum process and stressed out about its outcome, she says.

These days, Namirembe juggles working part-time at a city crèche, doing a master’s course at Dublin City University (DCU) and trying to find a home to rent – the last against a ticking clock.

On 18 May and again on 8 June, International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) – an office in charge of housing asylum seekers at the Department of Children and Equality – issued eviction letters to Namirembe.

She needs to leave her room at Marian Hostel in Tullamore in Co. Offaly by the end of this month, they said.

“IPAS is not in a position to continue to accommodate persons who have received a form of protection in the State on an ongoing basis,” says the letter dated 8 June.

The eviction notice does offer her an alternative place in the Lakelands Hotel in Scarriff in Co. Clare.

But Namirembe commutes from Tullamore to Dublin city every week to work and study. She can’t handle the strain of an even longer commute, she says.

Moving to Clare would feel like going backwards, she says, because she may have to drop out of college and quit her job. “It makes me feel like I’m going to be an asylum seeker again.”

As the Department of Children and Equality struggles to house newer arrivals, whether Ukrainian refugees or asylum seekers from elsewhere, it has been sending out notices to quit to its longer-term IPAS residents to free up space.

But that doesn’t take into account the severe housing crisis and how former asylum seekers are desperately unprepared to navigate that, Namirembe says.

“If Irish people themselves can’t find houses, how do they expect me to find it in one month?” says Namirembe.

A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Equality said that because it needs spaces for newly arrived asylum seekers, it is transferring those who have had status for a long time to emergency accommodation centres.

“Those currently being offered this transfer have had their permission granted for at least 18 months,” they said.

Since 2020, 2,800 former asylym seekers have left its IPAS accommodation centres, said the spokesperson. 

A place to settle

Namirembe says she isn’t the only one who has been served with an eviction notice at her centre.

She knows of eight other people, she says, all former asylum seekers, all still stuck in the direct provision system because they can’t find anywhere to rent.

“Not all of them are going to come out and fight for their rights. Most of them are scared,” she says.

The Department of Children and Equality doesn’t know how many notices to leave it has issued since March 2022, it said in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request in April 2023.

Namirembe has been trying to move out of the direct provision system for a year, she says. She has been approved for the rental subsidy, the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), but some landlords won’t accept it, she says.

Under the Equal Status Acts, it’s illegal for landlords or letting agents to discriminate against potential tenants based on being on HAP.

The IPAS eviction letter says she can get help from the housing charity Peter McVerry Trust to find a rental. But there’s not really much help that the charity can offer, an email suggests.

Says Namirembe: “I contacted Peter McVerry, they said their emergency accommodations are all full and advised me to go to Daft.”

“All of our emergency allocations are booked through the council,” says an email on 12 June from a Peter McVerry worker.

The worker says they understand that finding a place amid a housing crisis is challenging. “But I can only suggest you to keep looking in Daft.ie and Rent.ie for the property search,” the email says.

Namirembe pulls up a Gmail inbox on her phone. It shows rows of back-and-forths with landlords and agents that didn’t go anywhere.

A history of living in direct provision centres can be stigmatising and complicate their searches for homes, former asylum seekers have said.

Namirembe says she’s been forced to move five times since arriving in the country in 2019.

Including a transfer to the Skellig Star Hotel in Cahersiveen in Co. Kerry during the early days of the pandemic in 2020. There, repeated outbreaks of Covid-19 prompted the HSE to impose a month-long lockdown at the centre.

She is tired of a life that feels transient, she says. “I just want to live in a place where I can’t be transferred again.”

Her GP and the director of her master’s programme at DCU have both written to IPAS.

The letter from her master’s programme director says she’s an excellent student, and they want to see her supported in every way to complete her studies.

The GP’s letter says the stress of searching for a home and failing is taking a toll on her health. “She has insomnia and severe loss of appetite.”

Despite her trojan efforts, it’s been impossible to find a place to live, the letter says. “The stress is having a very, very adverse effect on her mental and physical health, and I would appreciate if this is brought into consideration.”

Powerless to leave

Namirembe says IPAS needs to give clear information on a pathway out of direct provision as soon as residents get their papers, empowering them to leave.

Things like how long it takes for a HAP application to get processed and approved, the names of housing charities and the best way to contact them.

“The grace period one should have in the hostel after getting status, when is one likely to be evicted. How many eviction letters should one get before the final one,” she says.

Since IPAS doesn’t charge asylum seekers for rent, there aren’t the same rules as for regular tenancies.

Muireann Ní Raghallaigh, an associate professor at University College Dublin (UCD) who researches refugee integration, says that people in direct provision centres are often segregated from wider communities.

That stops them from building vital connections that come in handy when people search for a home, she says.

“[They] often lack extensive social networks in local communities, and may have found it extremely difficult to save for a deposit,” says Ní Raghallaigh.

That’s not counting other barriers, like racism and discrimination, that hinder their search for a home, she says.

Also, she says, they don’t have landlord references.

Ultimately, she said, the system is to blame for people’s inability to leave it.

It has “created massive barriers to meaningful integration combined with housing policies that have led to a severe housing crisis”, said Ní Raghallaigh

Always moving people around, Ní Raghallaigh says, will only hinder integration further. “It’s likely to mean yet again facing the challenge of a new transition and a new period of resettlement with all of the difficulties that that involves.”

In February 2021, the current government published a white paper for ending the direct provision system by the end of the government’s lifetime in 2024.

But the conflict in Ukraine delayed its plans, said the Green Party Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman in the Dáil recently.

On top of that, he said on 30 May, the number of asylum seekers also grew, and 15,000 sought government accommodation in 2022.

“This increase in numbers has huge implications for the implementation of the White Paper,” he said.

That’s because, O’Gorman said, its underpinning roadmap was drawn up assuming no more than 3,500 new arrivals each year. “Which is based on 20 years of data.”

Now, though, there is a shortage of accommodation for asylum seekers. Tents have been visible outside the International Protection Office (IPO) on Mount Street in the city centre since April.

The IPAS letter says Namirembe’s room is needed for someone in the asylum process. “Who is currently residing in temporary emergency accommodation and urgently requires to avail of the services on site,” it says.

But Namirembe says moving her to Clare won’t really free up space if she’s taking room elsewhere anyway. “It’s just an act of moving people around.”

All she is asking for is more time to search for a home while trying to wrap up her studies, says Namirembe.

Then she would leave the direct provision system for good. “And they get space,” says Namirembe.

Some evenings, she said, when rushing out of a classroom early to catch a train, she dreams about discovering a place in the city where she could hide away for the night without anyone noticing.

That’s how much, she says, she wants to fight to keep the life she’s worked hard to build. “When they take me to Clare, I’m gonna lose track of my life.”

UPDATE: This article was updated at 10.46am on 28 June to include comments sent by the Department of Children and Equality.

Shamim Malekmian covers the immigration beat for Dublin Inquirer. Reach her at shamim@dublininquirer.com

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *