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27 May 1999 Edition

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Immigration Bill 1999 - Racist Act to Deport

BY ROISIN DE ROSA

Just one of the supposedly 90 percent of asylum seekers that Dublin Justice Minister John O'Donoghue' believes to be bogus, `Sophie''s application for asylum was turned down. A D. Rothwell gave it as his opinion that he had serious doubts as to the Somalian woman's credibility, because ``there was an absence of detail concerning how her husband had died, and she didn't show fear''.

Sophie came from a large Muslim family who were merchants and she married a son of a friend and associate of her father's. They had a shop, and he was an import-export merchant. He had trained in Uganda, where he learned English, which he needed for business. Her husband taught her a little English. They had four little children.

In the Somalian civil war there was terrible violence in villages, often for no other end than robbery. Her husband was collecting goods from the port when he was killed and his truck robbed. Sophie was left alone with her four children. She lived in the back of the shop. One evening, with a terrible crashing, marauders broke through the shop and came into her house. She pushed her children out, telling them to run to safety. But she herself couldn't get away. She was attacked, brutally raped, the house ransacked.

When she recovered consciousness, she went to find her children. No one had seen them. No one knew where they were. She couldn't find their bodies. She went to her family. They too had disappeared. Perhaps all dead.

In strict Muslim families, if a woman is raped she is ostracised, often beaten or killed. After rape she is worthless. Afraid, Sophie and a friend managed to escape on an open-air ketch to Kenya and a refugee camp. Terrible conditions. Sophie was very ill, unconscious for many days. People were dying in the camp. She was continuously sick. She thought it was the smell of the dead. There was little food, terrible mosquitoes, malaria, diarrhoea, dysentery. Then her friend advised Sophie that her sickness was because she was pregnant.

Sophie was pregnant from the rape. She gave birth in the camp to a daughter, who will be six next month, a beautiful child who has cerebral palsy. Little Aisha can't speak or move her limbs. She must be carried everywhere.

``I wanted to die. But then my baby was born, and I knew I had to survive.'' Then her friend died. Sophie was left alone. Mohammed came into the camp. He said that for the gold she had with her he would get her a passport and a ticket to where she would be safe. They flew to Dublin, where Mohammed took Sophie and Aisha to the Muslim Mosque and left them there.

Sophie got accommodation in Dun Laoghaire. She speaks with gratitude of the people there. Aisha never slept for the first two years in Ireland and could not swallow solid food. Last year, she had an operation and afterwards Sophie herself could get a little sleep at night time. ``My baby is going to school. Now I am happy. And then this: will they let me stay? When will they let me know of my appeal I am waiting at least six months''

In the letter rejecting Sophie's application for asylum, the official found it altogether dubious and most unusual for someone from Southern Somalia to speak some English, a point supported by a Steve Wolfson, Senior UNHCR Liaison Officer in Ireland, whose `expert' opinion was quoted in a letter ``that it is not common amongst South Somalians to speak English with proficiency''.

The expert seemed not to know that Somalia was colonised by the British and that English was the spoken language in trade, and that in any case Sophie's submission had been copied out from a translation made by friends from Swahili, which is Sophie's own language.

Supreme Court judgement


Sophie has not heard the result of her appeal because only last week, Laurentiu's case finally came to the Supreme Court. Laurentiu, a Romanian, successfully appealed a deportation order to the High Court. In the judgement last week, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court's ruling that his deportation was illegal because the Act derogated all powers to the executive (the minister) without reference to any principles and policy, which it was the role of the Oireachtas to lay down.

The 1935 Act had given complete discretion to the minister to deport without reference to any principles or policy laid down by the legislature. And the Court found this unconstitutional. All deportation orders made to date under the 1935 Act have to be scrapped following this important Supreme Court judgement. It means that the 53 deportees last year have been deported illegally.

In most unseemly haste, however, before the 1996 Immigration Act has even been implemented, the government, at the first whiff from the High Court that deportations might be declared unconstitutional, introduced the Immigration Bill 1999, which lays down some considerations for the minister to take into account before ordering a deportation. The 1996 Act lies dormant.

At present, the bill is in committee stage, though the government has said that they hope to enact it before the summer. So far, the Select Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights has dealt with 8 of 72 amendments. If the government should decide to speed up the process, then they may impose a guillotine, which will mean that government amendments are accepted and all the others fail, and then the minister is empowered to send people like Sophie out of the country with 24 hours notice.

Pat Guerin of the Anti Racist Committee calls it a deportation bill, not an immigration bill. It has been widely criticised as a monstrosity of racist legislation. It offers scant protection to refugees. It makes no provision in hearings of asylum seekers for interpreters, for adequate legal aid, or for protection of human rights in what amounts to a quasi-legal hearing without due process or procedures of law.

The bill will allow the Minister for Justice to deport before the full appeal hearing is heard; to exclude people on grounds of national security. The minister can base a deportation order on the character and conduct of a refugee, evidence taken from outside of the state, from the very government from which the refugee seeks to escape. Deportation can be on the basis of an indictment (not proven guilt) of any (unspecified) offence. Under the new bill, a person can be deported if ``in the opinion of the minister his stay would not be conducive to the common good''.

FAS to `import' 10,000 workers


Last week, FAS went to a trade fair in Koln, Germany, looking to build up a database to `import' 10,000 workers to fill vacant jobs here. One has to presume white workers. Yet there are 7,000 asylum seekers in this country, 80% of whom, according to a recent survey, have third-level qualifications, who have been denied the right to work and are promised only deportation.

When the people in Kerry came out to welcome the first Kosovan refugee, on their arrival in the middle of the night at Farranfore, they showed the spirit of the Irish of the céad míle fáilte. The irony of Minister O'Donohue's welcome cannot be missed by the 200 Kosovans already in this country who have been denied status, nor by all those seeking asylum, 90% of whom O'Donohue considers to be bogus.

``It is not the people of Ireland who are racist. It is the government,''says Sophie. The officials' so-called proof' that Sophie was ``bogus'' was that Department officials could not understand why Sophie did not show fear or cry at all in her interview .

``Why should I cry? We cry every day and night.''
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