Housing crisis hinders refugees from moving on with their lives

Housing crisis hinders refugees from moving on with their lives
Pamela Bangura

At five months pregnant, and completely alone, an 18-year-old Pamela Bangura fled Sierra Leone to seek asylum in Ireland.

Now three years later she has completed her Leaving Certificate and will start a science degree in UCC in September, but she can find nowhere to live because of the housing crisis.

"I will be here three years in September. I sought protection in Ireland in 2016, when I was five months pregnant with my son. He is two years and eight-months-old now.

I came from Sierra Leone, totally alone, I just came with my son in my belly," said Pamela, 21.

Despite being granted refugee status last year, Pamela has been unable to exit her direct provision centre in Cork because of a shortage in housing.

People seeking international protection are housed in one of the 39 direct provision centres until the Department of Justice and Equality (DJE) makes a decision on their application.

"The situation I'm in now is that they (the DJE) gave me my refugee status last year. However, I've been living in a direct provision centre on the Kinsale Road ever since, because I cannot get private accommodation because of the housing situation. I have been trying for nearly a year now," Pamela told the Irish Examiner.

She has also been asked to leave direct provision by the end of the month, as she has been granted her official refugee status.

"I have received letters saying: 'Pamela, you have been given your status so you have to find a way to leave your accommodation'. They would like me to leave by the end of August, but I've tried everything. I am also not considered to be homeless, so I am in a no man's land, for now," she said.

Despite her current situation, and the hurdles she has already overcome, Pamela is grateful to Ireland and to direct provision.

"As a new mum, direct provision gave me a place to stay and I had something to eat, I can't complain," she said.

The only issue for Pamela was the lack of study space as she couldn't revise for her exams with the lights on in her room as her son would wake.

Though I have one room for me and my son, it's a bit challenging for me because I was studying and did the Leaving Cert. I needed the light on to study but I couldn't because of my baby, so I had my phone under the duvet to study for the Leaving Cert.

"In September I will start a degree in public health science. My little boy is now in crèche. All of my teachers were very good to me," she said.

Pamela's search for accommodation has taken months and she has attended dozens upon dozens of viewings, often promised the tenancy, but then told later, by text, that she wouldn't be getting the place.

"The situation is tough for me, I've been viewing so many houses, like a lot a lot of them. I'll get a text back saying: 'Sorry, I gave the house to someone else', or they say they'll call back and they won't. I will go to an open viewing and be told I have it, but I won't get the house, I'll end up getting a message," she explained.

Pamela acknowledges that it is "just hard to get a house" under the current conditions with up to 50 people at some of the viewings she has attended, however, she has also been told that landlords only want a specific type of tenant.

Pamela Bangura
Pamela Bangura

"I don't know what it's about, but still it's difficult. I bring my child all the time. Some places will tell me definitely that the landlord doesn't want a small baby, or that they want somebody who is working, or the landlord only wants a couple, or they'll say everything is fine and they won't get back to you," she said.

Having fled Sierra Leone, studied for her Leaving Cert while minding a young child, and then receiving her refugee status, Pamela thought she would finally be able to move forward with her life.

"I'm a bit surprised, because when I got my papers I thought: 'Now I can get accommodation for myself and move in there with my son and start my studies'. But now I'm stressed. Study will be full-time Monday to Friday and I won't have time to look for accommodation, except at weekends.

"I don't know what to do, it's really, really painful for me," said Pamela.

According to the DJE there are 7,018 people currently living in direct provision accommodation centres, with 12%, or 842 of them unable to move on, "mainly due to wider issues around housing supply".

The Peter McVerry Trust has a scheme in place since April, trying to resettle anyone in this situation and help them progress from direct provision into private housing.

Anyone seeking more information can email info@pmvtrust.ie

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