A South African family seeking asylum in Ireland went to court to challenge the state’s decision to move them from a hotel in Co Wicklow to temporary accommodation in Co Mayo a week early.
The family, which has three young children, arrived in the state in July.
They say the decision to move them to what they say is inadequate housing is unreasonable and unreasonable when the children had just started school in Wicklow and started to settle in the local community.
They say they believe they have been treated inhumanely and that the children have been left without education, activities and friends, having a serious impact on their well-being.
They cannot be appointed by court order to protect the identity of children.
The family at the center of this case arrived in Ireland in mid-July.
The mother, father and three children, under 14 years of age, applied for international protection.
In a sworn document, the mother said this was due to extreme violence against her and her family in South Africa.
She said it was an extremely difficult decision to seek asylum abroad, but she did it out of fear of losing her life and the lives of her husband and children.
The woman said they were staying at the Grand Hotel in the town of Wicklow. At first they were in a shared room, but then they were given a room of their own where they lived until October 19.
She said that after receiving their own room, the family began to settle into life and began trying to get to know the schools, sports and activities in the city. The woman said that she knew they would be staying at the hotel permanently.
The two younger children were enrolled in a local primary school in September, where she said they have both settled in well. Her eldest son had a harder time finding a place in secondary school, but he started school on October 10 after his family paid him around €300 for uniforms.
The father and two of the children were involved in a local sports club, which helped them integrate into the community and make friends.
She said that they were very grateful for the assistance provided by the local community and that the family felt confident that they could build a life for their children while they processed their applications for international protection.
On October 13, she claimed to have received a letter from the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS), the agency in charge of providing accommodation to asylum seekers, informing the family that they would be moved to new accommodation the following week.
She said they were shocked and replied that they didn’t want to be moved.
Four days later, however, they received another letter telling them that they would be moving to the Breaffy Woods Hotel in Co Mayo on October 19.
The family was taken to the new accommodation by bus and has lived there ever since. The woman said her new accommodation was in a cubicle in a hotel sports hall. She said that it was completely inappropriate and that it was very cold. There was little privacy and the children were extremely traumatized.
She described them sleeping in their beds and generally uninterested in anything other than watching videos on their phones. Her mother said they had lost all the friendships and businesses they had built.
The nearest stores and schools were about 3 miles away, and the children did not go to school. They had been left without education, activities and friends, she said.
Attorney Tony McGillicuddy said that despite IPAS’ promise to minimize disruption, the move could not have been more disruptive. The need for the transfer had not been assessed and the rights of the family enshrined in the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated.
He said that children had not been mentioned at all in IPAS communications and that it was extraordinary that there seemed to be no consideration for their needs.
In an affidavit, the family’s attorney, Susan Doyle, said that IPAS had written to the family to tell them that the decision had been made to “maximize the utilization of the available housing portfolio at a time of immense and increasing pressure on his system”.
The IPAS stated that the Grand Hotel in Wicklow was now only used for “single men” and that the Breaffy Woods Hotel was available for the use of families. But Mrs Doyle said her instructions were that families would continue to live in the Wicklow hotel while single people were also being housed in Mayo.
The family wants the court to order the state to take them back to Co Wicklow so they can resume school.
Judge Brian O’Moore said he would adjourn the case until Thursday morning to allow state defendants to respond.
He also issued an order preventing the family from being identified until 1pm from Thursday.
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