Republican News · Thursday 30 Novemeber 2000

[An Phoblacht]

No céad míle fáilte here

There was an outcry last Monday (27 November) at the treatment of Pakistani visiting businessmen, who were quite wrongly arrested at Dublin Airport and despatched to Mountjoy by Dublin Immigration Police. They went to court and were summarily released with an apology.

``But what if they had just been black, and didn't happen to be business people, or have access to legal advice?'' Rosanna Flynn of Residents Against Racism asks. ``What happens in all the cases we don't happen to hear about? There is an urgent need for a public inquiry into the behaviour of the immigration officials at Dublin Airport. It seems that they are accountable to no one but themselves, and can act largely with impunity, and out of sight of public scrutiny.''

Here, An Phoblacht's ROISIN DE ROSA here tells the story of one man, Nigerian Steve Oladeji, who experienced this unwelcoming side of Dublin Airport. It makes grim reading - a judgement on us all, that we have let this happen in Ireland.

Steve's story

Steve Oladeji is a 35-year-old Nigerian who has refugee status here. He has lived in Ireland since 1997, and two of his five children were born here. Over the last three years he has held several jobs, first as a security guard, and then, after a FAS computer training course, he went to work at IBM. He lives in Leixlip.

Four of Steve's five children are here in Ireland with him and his wife, Debbie. They are happy here and are settled into schools. Steve wants all five of his children to grow up together as a family. His fifth child, Tope, who is just 13, remained in Nigeria with an aunt until her mother's sister managed to get a visa for herself and Tope to come to England last September.

At the end of September, Steve went over to England to collect Tope to bring her home to Ireland. He had last seen her when she was just six years old.

``She was expecting me. She was very happy. Getting to know your child again after such a long absence, it was wonderful.''

Together, they arrived at Dublin Airport at about 2pm. ``They checked my passport, green book, ticket, documents,'' said Steve. ``They said Tope is not on your passport. How could she be? She had a valid visa to go to England.''

On arrival, immigration control officials took him and Tope off to one side, collected and searched their baggage, and took them to separate offices, where a number of people called to Toje and told her to come with them.

Steve objected, and said she was too young to go on her own with any of them, and legally too young to be interviewed without a parent present. ``They got very angry,'' he remembers. ``They shouted at me, `So you know the law, do you?' followed by much racist abuse. They took her away into a separate room opposite where I was waiting and locked the door.''

By 5pm Steve was still waiting. ``Officials came over to me and told me to leave. I have to see my child, I said. Where is she? What are you doing to her? `Sit down there or leave,'' they said. `We are taking her back to England'.''

``Four or five officials then came over. They nearly strangled me, they put me down, put handcuffs on me, and while they stood on me, they brought Tope out of the locked room and took her away. They took her to England where she was placed in a detention centre, alone. It took several weeks for her aunt to get her released.

``Back at the airport, they arrested me, took me to a police station, charged me with assault. They put me in prison.''

Over four weeks, one difficulty or another was raised to bail. First it was that Steve didn't have identification, although all his documents were produced in court, including passport, Bank Account, life insurance policy, business registration documents and so on. The next time it was a different judge, who didn't feel it suitable to deal with the case. Week after week it went on, until after a month he was released, after appealing to the High Court, on 3,000 cash bail.

After several weeks, Tope was released from the detention centre. ``Even now I can't go back to get her, because a condition of my bail is that they retain my passport,'' says Steve. ``It is terrible. I have spoken to Tope on the phone. She doesn't even want to speak with me. She blames me for what she went through, and for everything that happened.''

Back in Nigeria, Steve had been a member of the police force for nine years, until they had told him to join the riot squad-security police, which had the responsibility for quashing riots. He didn't want to be involved in this. This force was armed to the teeth - it was shoot on sight. On three occasions he avoided taking part by claiming sick. But he could not continue that. He was arrested, imprisoned.

The final straw was when his brother, who looked like Steve, borrowed Steve's car and was shot dead in it, at close range, in the back of the head. ``The authorities said it was a robbery, but there was money still left in the car,'' said Steve, who then left Nigeria.

``There are many `disappeared' people in Nigeria. There are thousands held in jail without any charge. The prison cells have no light, no fresh air. You go blind in the end from this treatment. Torture is widespread.

``The government here chooses not to recognise these things in Nigeria. Why? To maintain racial purity in Ireland? To restrict people like myself from coming here to seek asylum?''

Waterford says stay

Some 200 people braved appalling weather to march in support of Ebi Ojoh, a Nigerian with two children, whose application for asylum in the 26 Counties has been turned down by Minister for Justice John O'Donoghue.

``It was a clear demonstration to the minister that people in this country welcome a multicultural society and want to help alleviate the suffering of those who have been persecuted in their home countries,'' says Pat Guerin of the Anti Racism Campaign.

Ebi Ojoh's application for refugee status here was fast-tracked, which meant that she never even received the benefit of a full application, oral hearing and appeal. She left Nigeria after two of her brothers were killed, and her partner and eldest son ``disappeared''. At present she is appealing, on humanitarian grounds, for permission to stay, in a community into which she and her two children have been welcomed.

``We are appalled at what is happening in the treatment of those who apply for asylum here. The cases itemised in the recent study by the Irish Refugee Council show a travesty of justice in the procedures. People who most clearly qualify for refugee status in their well-founded fear of persecution, are being `fast-tracked' and summarily rejected. It brings shame on all of us,'' says Pat Guerin.

No Holiday Camp

other appalling example of racist propaganda emanated from the Department of Justice last week, when it was announced that refugees would be accommodated in Butlin's camp at Mosney, which would mean that the Community Games, in which thousands of children take part every year, would have to be cancelled.

The statement was utterly disingenuous. Mosney went broke and the government bailed them out to the tune of 15 million.

If the chalets are to be used to accommodate refugees, it is a decision by the government. It is certainly not the fault of the refugees if the community games are cancelled.

The further announcement that the swimming pool and other leisure facilities would be closed simply added insult to injury, as it suggested that asylum seekers should not be allowed to enjoy their stay, whereas undoubtedly the reason for closing bar and pool are quite simply excessive costs.

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