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Minister urged to reconsider approach to asylum seekers in Immigration Bill 2007

21 February, 2008

Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, speaking in the Dáil today, said one o the most appalling measures in the Immigration Bill 2007 is the one which give immigration officers and Gardaí the power to remove a foreign national from the State on suspicion of them being here illegally. There is no obligation on the officer or Gard to prove their suspicions.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said today, "I want to highlight the provisions relating to the principle of non-refoulement, the prohibition on returning asylum seekers to a country where they are likely to face persecution or torture. This is a cornerstone of international human rights law. It recognises that not everyone facing such a danger will meet the Convention definition of a 'refugee', and guarantees their protection nonetheless.

"It is incumbent on states that are parties to the Convention, as Ireland is, to ensure that no one who arrives here seeking protection is refouled. This obligation needs to be taken very seriously. We must remember that this is literally a matter of life and death for these people. It is not an area that the State should be cutting corners on, or honouring in the breach. Human lives are at stake.

"One of the most appalling measures in this bill is Section 54 which states that

Where it appears to an immigration officer or a member of an Garda Síochána that a foreign national is unlawfully present in the State or at a frontier of the State, the officer or member may remove the foreign national from the State.

"The person can be sent to any country it appears to the officer that they are a national of. The officer is under no requirement to verify their suspicion. There is no appeal.

"The possibilities here are staggering and I would remind the House of a very recent case that occurred in the northern part of this island. Frank Kakopa was arrested at Belfast Airport, strip-searched and held in Maghaberry for three days as an 'illegal asylum seeker' even after showing his British driving licence, payslips and bank statements - even after his employers in Liverpool had phoned the airport to confirm that he worked for them. No, it appeared to the officers that he was illegally present and that is all that they needed to put him through three days of hell. It is obvious that they made that judgment on the basis of the colour of his skin and his African accent. The sad likelihood is that under this section of the legislation, particular foreign nationals will be singled out on the same basis.

"I appeal to the Minister to rethink his approach to the immigration and asylum issues. They are two different procedures and should be treated differently. Indeed, there is much to the argument that they should not even be covered in the same legislation. The procedures in this bill for long term residency appear not to distinguish between migrant workers and persons granted humanitarian leave or subsidiary protection. A more flexible approach should be taken with regard to the latter, in consideration of the circumstances that brought them here. They did not come by choice." ENDS

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