The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O'Gorman has said it is likely that the State will not be able to provide accommodation to newly arriving international protection applicants in the coming days.

The UN's Refugee Agency has called for urgent action to avoid large numbers of asylum seekers being left homeless.

Newly arrived international protection applicants were left without accommodation twice before, in September and in October last year.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Minister O'Gorman said it was likely that the situation will persist for "longer period of time" on this occasion.

The minister said it is likely that the Citywest Transit hub will be closed to newly arrived international protection applicants in the coming days.

"We'll continue to keep it open in terms of processing applications, but as you know, on a nightly basis we've a very significant number of people staying in Citywest and that is the immediate pinch-point in terms of when new arrivals come."

The minister said efforts would continue to offer accommodation to the most vulnerable, mainly women and children and people with disabilities.

Mr O'Gorman said that others would be provided with food vouchers and would be contacted when accommodation becomes available.

He said it will require "a sustained effort across the governmental system in order to address the needs of people over the next number of weeks" and that "there's a very real risk that we won’t be able to accommodate everybody".

More accommodation is due to become available in mid-February, he said.

"Some of it will be hotels, some of it, as you know, we’re converting buildings and the like, so there’s a number of locations where we have potential accommodation coming from mid-February," the minister said.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR, the UN's Refugee Agency has called "for urgent action by the Irish government to avoid large numbers of asylum-seekers being left homeless and destitute".

The organisation said the situation is likely to deteriorate further over the coming weeks and months with the withdrawal of several large hotels that are currently accommodating asylum seekers.

Enda O'Neill, the Head of Office with UNHCR Ireland said that "it has been clear for some time that the Department of Integration's reliance on privately contracted accommodation could not be maintained beyond an initial emergency response".

"It appears that only an urgent intervention at the most senior level across national and local government will prevent large numbers of people becoming homeless," he added.

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CEO of the Irish Refugee Council Nick Henderson said when no accommodation was offered to international protection applicants in September and October last year it resulted in "street homelessness, people sleeping on the streets of Dublin, trying to sleep in local garda stations or possible the airport".

Mr Henderson said that he was even more worried about what might happen next week.

"What makes it more serious than what happened in the autumn is the statement from Government that this is likely to continue until mid-February, so the realistic scenario is that people will be street homeless for several weeks until or if accommodation can be found," Mr Henderson said.

Mr Henderson said that the Irish Refugee Council believes that there are medium and long-term accommodation solutions "that are available to Government that are not being pursued", but said that "this would take an all of Government approach".

In the meantime, he is worried about people falling through the cracks in the coming weeks, if as feared, people are not offered State provided accommodation.

"We need to make sure that people are properly registered when they arrive so we can locate them, people need to be given supports, so the daily expenses allowance, we need to be making sure that Dublin homeless services, if they can help, are being supported in that way, and that there is some sort of control or monitoring of this situation," Mr Henderson said.

A statement from the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive said it had "no remit for the provision of accommodation to international protection applicants and has no additional available accommodation at this time".

Social Democrats spokesperson for Children and Youth Affairs, Jennifer Whitmore said that "it is not acceptable" that international protection applicants "could potentially end up on the streets".

"I don't think anyone underestimates how challenging this is for the Government and for the Minister but Ireland has legal obligations to asylum seekers coming into the country, we have to provide them with suitable accommodation," Ms Whitmore said.

Read more:
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Figures obtained from the Department of Justice show that in the first 18 days of January 838 international protection applicants arrived in the country, in addition to 1,181 Ukrainian refugees.

Minister O'Gorman has said that the accommodation shortage it is facing is currently for international protection applicants rather than Ukrainian refugees.

There are currently 19,350 international protection applicants being housed by the State, along with 52,800 Ukrainian refugees.

The Department of Integration confirmed that, last night 900 people, mainly made up of international protection applicants, were accommodated in the Citywest Transit Hub.

It was originally intended to offer temporary accommodation to up to 370 people and it has just 18 showers.