Inside East Wall’s refugee accommodation: ‘Living here is worse than being a caged animal’

Residents who have been moved into the old ESB office in East Wall say they are scared, cold and lacking in privacy

An Algerian nurse who is now resident in the former ESB building on East Wall Road in Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Sarah Slater

Two Algerian nurses have revealed the conditions at the old ESB office building in East Wall after being moved there “without any choice”.

The two young women, who did not wish to be named, said they had been living happily with “lots of privacy” for seven months at the Crowne Plaza Hotel but were told on Tuesday night by note that they had to leave, without any consultation.

One of the friends said: “We were told to gather up all our belongings and to be ready by 9am on Wednesday and we along with numerous others were bused to the East Wall.

“We were made to wait in a room until 8pm that night until we were assigned a space. My friend and I are sharing a type of plastic pod which really is smaller than a prison cell.

“There is no door, only plastic, and anyone can look over the top of the plastic into our space.

“We have been told that another woman will be coming to share with us, which is not big enough.”

She and her friend left their home country because of how women were being treated, and believed, as qualified nurses, they could offer something to Ireland.

“We didn’t expect to be treated like this, to be honest it’s making us feel worse than a caged animal, it’s making us feel worthless.”

She said the building is “extremely cold”.

“You can hear everything, children crying, people shouting and everything you can imagine... We feel so intimidated by the whole atmosphere in the building, which is horrendous.”

A married couple, who are both aged 36, said there is “a lot of tension” in the building.

The man, who is working as a senior engineering technician, said he cannot go to work as he is “afraid to leave his wife on her own”.

He said staff and security people have been very nice to them but “I wish people could know how terrified we are”.

Projections by the Department of Equality said they have to meet their international obligations on housing asylum seekers.

The department has indicated there will be a shortfall of 15,000 beds for asylum seekers this month.

The department said that since January of this year there have been more than 12,300 international protection applicants arriving into Ireland. It said that in the 10-year period from 2010 to 2020 there were 3,500 such arrivals.

Protests and blockades of Dublin Port Tunnel have now entered their third week and the East Wall Committee said they will continue until the use of the former ESB office building ends, or the Government accedes to demands on how men, women and children are housed.

The committee has called for a referendum on how asylum seekers are accommodated and has vowed not to meet any more politicians until its demands are met.

Nigel Murphy, a spokesperson for the committee, said: “Our protests have never been about not wanting asylum seekers being accommodated here. It’s all about how they are being treated and looked after.”

The committee has called on Amnesty International to carry out inspections.

“The old ESB building is not habitable and those bused in there have revealed how bad it is. We will not meet with any more politicians until they deal properly with this deplorable situation.”

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Equality Minister Roderic O’Gorman recently met with the protesters and residents to allay their fears.

A Department of Equality spokesperson said the health and wellbeing of residents was of the highest priority, and that residents have access to support.

“There are security personnel on each floor at all times. All accommodation is self-contained.

“The rooms and pods reach a height of 2.5 metres, therefore it is not possible for residents to overlook into a neighbouring pod or room.

“In addition, families and single males are segregated on separate floors. On the family floors there are a number of fathers residing there with their families in their own rooms. Each room or pod has integrated locks.

“The single males are on a separate floor and cannot access the family floors due to the access control arrangements and there are security personnel present in the corridor to each accommodation block”.

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