A model of successful community integration is in danger of being dismantled as 20 families, who have been granted permission to remain in the country, face eviction from their Co Tipperary homes.

While some rural communities have resisted attempts to house international asylum applicants in their towns and villages in recent years, the people of Borrisokane have proven that positive integration can be achieved with the right supports.

However, families who came to the north Tipp town in 2019 from Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa, are now facing upheaval as they’ve been told they must leave their homes, despite being granted Leave to Remain status.

The 96 residents, which include several young children, fear they will end up homeless following eviction notices served by the Department of Integration. They have been told they no longer qualify for International Protection Accommodation Service housing at the Riverside complex in the town. This stance contradicts a written commitment given to the community in 2019 that the residents could remain in the complex long- term.

Vibrant diversity

The Borrisokane Liaison Committee is insisting that the government honour its commitment to the town and allow the 96 residents to remain in the Riverside complex.

Principal of Scoil Mhuire National School Sarah Leahy addressed a public meeting in the town last Friday evening. She said if the eviction notices are enforced, there will be 27 empty chairs in her school.

“Integration has been remarkably successful in Borrisokane and we have vibrant diversity in our school which we celebrate,” she said.

“The children are frightened. They think they’re being kicked out and that they don’t have a home anymore. They think they will have to go to camps and have asked if they are being evicted from the school too. They don’t want to leave their friends or watch their parents struggle to find a home for reasonable rent. They have asked if they can live in the school.

“We have tears from those who are facing further displacement and the fear of homelessness. It is imperative that the 2019 agreement is honoured with affordable rents for these families. We have 27 unheard voices and it is up to us to make sure they are provided with affordable accommodation.”

No revolving door

Maria Donnelly of the Borrisokane Liaison Committee, set up in 2019 to advocate for the local community during the integration process, said it was time for the Government to honour its commitment to the town.

“We stood here fearing the unknown in 2019 when Borrisokane was chosen to house asylum seekers. We sat down with the Department of Justice, Nenagh Municipal District Council and the property management company over three separate meetings to find a way of doing this.

“Integration was always to the fore and we stipulated there be no revolving door and that it be families that came to our town. We also insisted that no other direct provision centre be located within 10km of the town and that the residents would be allowed to remain in the town, subject to their claim for asylum being granted, where they would move to Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) arrangements with the council or other council rental agreements. All these caveats were agreed to and after the initial 16 apartments in the Riverside complex were agreed, a further four apartments were procured six months later.

“The 96 residents have become part of our community, with the children attending our schools. They play with our sports teams and their parents coach in our clubs. The adults are working locally and they all call Borrisokane home. They don’t want to be forced into homelessness or social welfare. They want to pay their way and continue to be a part of community life. We need to work as a community to stop this happening. We want them to have the right to stay here.”

Sarah Leahy (Principal, Scoil Mhuire, Borrisokane) says if the eviction notices are enforced, there will be 27 empty seats in her school. \ Odhran Ducie

Post traumatic stress

A number of the residents also spoke at the public meeting where they thanked the community for its support.

Benjamin Afriye from Ghana said he has made his home in the town and was very proud of how local people were supporting the other residents.“I have been driving around for hours every day looking for somewhere to live and my wife is worried we will end up homeless because there is nothing available anywhere,” he said.

Dolly Tunde-Muraina, who came to Ireland from Nigeria, said her family considers Borrisokane home. “We see ourselves as people of Borrisokane, not people of colour and we have a stake here,” she said.

“It is unfortunate that the housing crisis is biting so hard at the moment because this has changed things. We cannot ease out of Direct Provision and we don’t want to move out of a place we call home. They told us when we came here that when we had our status we could stay. We need you to hold them accountable on this. We are working here, paying taxes, and we want to help you to develop this town and this community.”

A second wave of eviction notices are due to be issued by IPAS next month and the community of Borrisokane is adamant the Riverside residents are entitled to remain in their homes.

A GP in the town has written a letter of support for the residents, many of whom are under his care. Dr Rory Glynn said many of his patients have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome. He believes the imminent threat of homelessness is exacerbating already acute mental health problems. “It is my opinion that it is both unethical and morally wrong to evict these people and as their family doctor, I strongly urge the authorities to intervene on their behalf and do whatever it takes to ensure they remain in Borrisokane,” he says.

Change of heart

Local resident Martin Fox said that he hadn’t initially been supportive of the international residents’ arrival in the town. However, he has had a change of heart since 2019. “I was against all this when it was first proposed but now, I’m telling these people to rip up their eviction notices,” he said.

“You can’t trust the government when they’re telling you that you have an agreement that they now say isn’t a legally binding document.”

A petition is to be presented to the Department of Integration, calling for the eviction notices to be withdrawn and the original agreement allowing the Riverside complex residents to remain in their homes be adhered to.

However, a statement issued to Irish Country Living by the Department of Integration insists the residents of Riverside must leave their homes.

“We are responding to an emergency situation, and there is an urgent need to provide accommodation for families with children fleeing conflict situations around the world and applying for International Protection here in Ireland,” a spokesperson said.

“When Riverside Accommodation centre opened at the end of 2019, 7,683 people were accommodated in IPAS accommodation. We currently accommodate over 31,000 people and have over 2,000 single men awaiting an offer of IPAS accommodation.

“These residents are no longer entitled to IPAS-provided accommodation. However, IPAS continues to accommodate those with status, until such time that they progress into the community, including these residents who have been offered a transfer to emergency accommodation.”

In short

• The Riverside complex is one of 49 centres for international protection applicants around the country, with current figures from the Department of Integration stating there are 6,875 applicants in Ireland, 2,166 of whom are children. Co Tipperary is currently accommodating 748 international protection applicants.

• Several TDs representing Tipperary have called on An Taoiseach Simon Harris to intervene. “The agreement reached with the Department of Justice has to stand, morally if not legally, and our Taoiseach Simon Harris needs to look at this and recalibrate the system,” said Deputy Alan Kelly, Labour.

•“The threat of eviction needs to be lifted until a solution is found, we need to lift the uncertainty from these families and we need to focus on the future,” said Independent TD Michael Lowry.

• Deputy Jackie Cahill, Fianna Fáil, said Borrisokane had shown the entire country how successful integration worked and now the authorities wanted to dismantle the model.