Universities should use their empty accommodation to house direct provision residents and other “vulnerable” students, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has said.
The call comes after the Department of Justice and Equality wrote to university presidents urging them to provide alternative accommodation for students in direct provision.
In a press statement, USI’s Vice-President for Equality and Citizenship Megan Reilly said: “Students in Direct Provision are in very tough circumstances during these times. They do not have the space or privacy in which to study and get their college work done. They are most likely sharing rooms with the rest of their family or others.”
“There are empty rooms now in a lot of student accommodation buildings and they should be used to look after people who need this support”, Reilly added.
“The vacant rooms could also be used to house other vulnerable students such as those working on the frontline during the pandemic including student nurses, pharmacists and those working in supermarkets and other essential jobs.”
“A lot of students have also been told to leave digs and have nowhere else to go”, she said.
USI is calling for this accommodation to be provided at a “highly subsidised rate or free of charge”, depending on a student’s circumstances.
Reilly said: “A lot of the students that need this wouldn’t be in a position to pay the usual rents or some, such as those in Direct Provision, wouldn’t be able to pay at all. But if the need is there and these rooms are empty, that shouldn’t be an issue.”
Last month, Trinity gave international students just 48 hours’ notice to vacate their accommodation due to the spread of covid-19. Irish students were given 24 hours to leave.
After backlash from students, College said that students could remain in their accommodation if they met certain criteria, such as having immunocompromised relatives.
International students who faced “real barriers to travel” and residents with immunocompromised relatives were also exempt from the clearout.
Students living in Binary Hub and Kavanagh Court were later reassured that they would not have to vacate. College clarified in an email to these students that they were merely advised and not ordered to leave.
Given that the two complexes are privately owned, College was “not in a position to manage the situation for students residing in Binary Hub or in Kavanagh Court”, the email said.
“Our email of yesterday should be read as strong advice to return home if that option is available to them rather than a requirement that they do so.”