BY ROISIN DE ROSA
On Monday, when the 26-County government implemented the 1996 Refugee Act, it became the law that no media could publish the name of an asylum seeker without first obtaining the Minister of Justice's permission.
In particular, the new law states that ``no matter likely to lead members of the public to identify a person as an applicant under this Act shall be published in a written publication available to the public or broadcast without the consent of that person and the consent of the Minister of Justice''.
It means that the moving personal stories and pictures of asylum seekers can no longer find their way into the media. The minister clearly recognises the importance of humanising refugees' stories, if we are to successfully oppose racialism in our society. Minister O'Donoghue justifies this law on the basis of the refugees' own need to protect their own identities.
But no reputable journalist would consider identifying any asylum seeker without his or her express permission. It goes without saying.
Donncha O'Connell of the ICCL points out: ``While the Minister has disingenuously invoked UNHCR guidelines as a justification for the restriction on identification of asylum seekers in the media, there is little doubt that the measure will result in the under-reporting of human interest stories from asylum seeker communities. The effect will be to depersonalise the story of asylum seekers.''
In effect, denying journalists the right to personalise an asylum seeker's story is depersonalising, and dehumanises those who seek asylum here. If a refugee happens to be brutalised, perhaps within the immigration department on arrival at the airport, and pictures cannot be published without the Minister's consent, then we are in a very clear case of censorship.
As Donncha O'Connell goes on: ``There is another level at which this provision is objectionable as a prior restraint on freedom of expression by the media. I doubt very much if it is compatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the ICCL will do everything possible to support the NUJ in its efforts to have it repealed.''
James Stapleton from the Irish Refugee Council says he is appalled at the law, and sees it ``as a clear case of de facto censorship''.
Infringement of this law incurs the penalty of a £1,500 fine or 12 months imprisonment.
This Saturday, people in Waterford will march to protest the deportation order of an asylum seeker, who since 25 October has had her asylum application turned down, and who is now appealing on humanitarian grounds to Dublin Justice Minister John O'Donoghue to stay. The march will assemble at 2pm at the Majestic Hotel carpark.
The woman has two children who have been here since the summer and have joined local schools. They are well known and liked in the community.
She left Nigeria after two of her brothers were killed, and her partner and eldest son ``disappeared.''. Nevertheless, her application for asylum last summer was fast tracked, and her appeal was turned down. It is a tragic case.
Supporting Saturday's march is the Waterford Trades Council. The Waterford Glass Branch of the ATGWU, and SIPTU, at its regional conference two weeks ago, have supported her appeal. Hundreds of letters have gone to Minister O'Donoghue protesting his refusal to grant refugee status.
The march is a landmark in people's determination to oppose the racist policies of Minister O'Donoghue towards asylum seekers. It can be seen as one positive result of the ICTU week against racism in the workplace, which was held across the country. It is remarkable given that prior to the `dispersal' of refugees to Tramore last summer, there were protest meetings organised in the town against asylum seekers moving into accommodation.
Since then, however, local people have taken a stance against racism. They supported a rock against racism concert in Tramore last summer, where local bands and black musicians played. According to Declan Cheasty of the Ebi Ojoh Campaign (Tel 051852047) there is very considerable support throughout Waterford that she should be allowed to remain. She believes that return to Nigeria will put her life in danger, and that of her two children.