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Sinn Féin MLAs to visit  to Asylum seekers detained in Maghaberry prison

22 December, 2003

A Sinn Féin delegation including South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane ( Equality and Human Rights spokesperson) and South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey (Anti-racism spokesperson) will visit Asylum Seekers detained in Maghaberry Prison tomorrow, Tuesday 23rd December at 9.30am.  They will call for an immediate end to the detention of Asylum Seekers in Maghaberry and Magilligan and call  for greater co-operation with the Department of Justice in the 26 Counties on the issue of asylum.

Speaking ahead of the visit Ms Ruane said:

"Sinn Féin has consistently sought to highlight the conditions faced by Asylum Seekers throughout Ireland and we have opposed the locking up of asylum seekers, individuals who have been charged with no offence and who in many cases are fleeing from religious, racial or political persecution.

"It is a tribute to organisation such as the Law Centre, Multicultural Resource Centre, Refugee Action Network, NICEM, private solicitors firms and the Committee on the Administration of Justice, that they continue to fight for the rights of people who find themselves detained here with little or no support.   We need to see an alternative to detention developed which includes full access to community and welfare support.

"It is also vital that pressure continues to grow on the NIO to end this outrageous practice of detention without charge.  It is nothing less than internment without trial.  This is in itself a flagrant abuse of human rights and civil liberties.  It is wrong that Asylum Seekers are being held in both Magilligan and Maghaberry prisons, where sentenced prisoners are also held.  All human rights groups working in this area have called for this practice to stop and the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees state that as a general principle Asylum Seekers should not be detained.  Here we fail even this basic principle.

"There is also a failure within the NIO and Department of Justice in the South to work together to address the issue of asylum.  There are a high number of cases where individuals who applied for asylum in the South of Ireland and then went to the North and have been detained for lengthy periods while the British Immigration authorities made formal requests to the Department of Justice.  In some cases this took 49 days, and the people in question had children in the South from whom they were separated.

"Legislation governing how asylum seekers should be treated should be based on European and International Human Rights Standards and in particular there must be a legislative force given to Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

"Over the years Irish people have sought asylum throughout the world and sometimes arrived in countries where they were initially treated in a very unwelcoming manner but where they subsequently went on to play an important role in these societies.  Surely we can now repay our debt and provide sanctuary or asylum for people encountering difficulties in their countries of origin.  It is at important times like Christmas that we must not forget people who are suffering isolation and loneliness because off flawed legislation and human rights abuses."ENDS

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