Irish-born triplets Joshua, Miracle and David were deported with their mother Noruwa in 2012. Photograph: Akinola Ariyo
The Irish Times [Supported by the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund]
31 August, 2013
What kind of life awaits asylum seekers who are sent back to their native countries? The Irish Times travels to Lagos, in Nigeria, to find out
BY CATHERINE REILLY
In a rundown one-bedroom home in Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city, Funmi Ojomu sifts through remnants of another time and place, papers that unfold an abruptly terminated narrative. An Irish birth certificate records her daughter Claire’s arrival at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, in April 2007. As she was born after January 1st, 2005, Claire was not automatically entitled to citizenship. Ojomu also still has adult-education scrolls with grades that fostered a quiet hope that she would be allowed to stay in Ireland, and the worn letterhead of the Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan, an immigrant advocate, reflecting a search for help as the end neared.
After three years as an asylum seeker in the Mosney accommodation centre, in Co Meath, and a few days in Mountjoy women’s prison, pending “removal”, a narrative of uncertainty became a tale of daily survival. “You are thrown back to a bleak place where there is no hope,” she says.
Claire sits quietly on the sofa. She is light in complexion, owing to an expatriate father who may have left Nigeria. On the thronged, sandy streets she goes into a shell when people call out “oyinbo” (“white person” in Yoruba). The kidnap-for-ransom gangs present a sharper concern. “They wouldn’t know that I don’t even have a penny,” says Ojomu. “I whisper it to God: ‘Don’t let her just be a victim, because I don’t know what I would do.’ ”
Since their deportation, in December 2009, Claire, who has had malaria “several times”, often speaks of Ireland. “Claire, what do you always tell mummy? Don’t be shy,” Ojomu gently prompts, and Claire says softly, “Want to go back.”
A grubby curtain shrouds a tiny kitchen without running water. A torch on Ojomu’s table speaks of a shaky electricity supply.
Nigeria’s economy has grown strongly in recent years, but most people have not benefited in this nation that is tired of paradoxes. Corruption and mismanagement facilitated by western organisations – the NGO Global Witness reported in 2010 on British banks and “dirty money” from Nigeria, for example – have long thwarted the enormous potential of this oil-rich nation, and daily sustenance, employment and school fees are all huge challenges for Ojomu.
She bears a painful-looking hand injury, which she cannot afford to have treated. “You fall victim to so many things,” she says, “because you want to survive.”
Ojomu came to Ireland seeking asylum in December 2006. Applicants must show a “well-founded fear of persecution”. She claimed that a member of her family threatened her pregnancy, as Claire’s father was a Muslim and her own family were Christian.
A “friend” arranged her travel to Ireland and met her in Dublin, advising that she “declare” herself in the country. At Mosney she got three meals a day and €19.10 a week (as well as €9.60 a week for Claire) but was not allowed to work. Ojomu kept busy with volunteer work as the weeks, months and years ticked by.
Since they were deported they have had no contact with the person who she says threatened her.
Ojomu’s main concern is her daughter. “By the time the person spends over two years adapting to the culture and everything, they are thinking, Oh, things might be better now, I’ll get myself together here,” she says. “But suddenly you are back to square one again. For a child who was born over there and who had never been in this country . . . the first thing they will be faced with is no light, no water, mosquitoes. If it is only me . . . I can go through it, but she is too small for this.”
Claire looks at her mum, who is in tears.
On September 24th, 2006, Noruwa Oziegbe gave birth to triplets at Waterford Regional Hospital. She had been expecting twins, the third baby having been missed at antenatal appointments.
Today, in a cramped rented home in Lagos, the six-year-olds – David, Joshua and Miracle – jostle for attention as their mother praises the Irish midwife who insisted there was a third baby. She has a clipping from the Tipperary Voice as a keepsake for the triplets. She has two other sons, 10-yearold Paul and 13-year-old Ose, who is out at secondary school.
Oziegbe says that since their deportation, in March 2012, her boys frequently ask when they are returning to Ireland. They lived there for more than five years. “They go to school and are coming back saying, ‘Oh, Mummy, we are not doing what we used to do in St Mary’s [in Drogheda].’ It is an everlasting thing that will be in their memories.”
Oziegbe, who is from Lagos state, arrived in Ireland in September 2006. Her asylum application claimed that her twins (as was thought) would be made to undergo “a ritual” to “keep them safe”. Her requests for asylum and for subsidiary protection, an EU-mandated status that refers to a risk of serious harm if deported, were refused. She was also declined leave to remain, a status at the discretion of the minister for justice that is meant to consider humanitarian issues, including family circumstances.
On March 8th, 2012, there was banging on the door in Mosney. It was the Garda, who had arrived even though a legal challenge to the refusal of subsidiary protection had been appealed to the Supreme Court (and has yet to be heard).
The gardaí “came in the morning, just like that, and woke them up from the bed,” Oziegbe says. “They took us straight to the airport, and we didn’t leave until that night.
“I cried all the way. When we got to Nigeria it just dawned on me: the first thing was the hot air,” she says. “They felt it. They were all sweating. I don’t know how to explain it – coming down, the hot air, the people, the questioning. They were like, ‘Mummy, what is happening?’ ”
Oziegbe, a pharmacy graduate, has found work. Her husband, who remained in Lagos, is also working, but they struggle to make ends meet. “There are many things that are just not right in this country,” says Oziegbe, who maintains that she is still fearful of issues raised in her asylum claim.
Paul, quiet throughout, decides to say a few words. Speaking flatly and staring ahead, he remembers the Irish Sea, watching films on a Saturday, visiting Scotch Hall Shopping Centre, chatting with friends on the bus, attending church and school. He says school in Nigeria is very different, as it is “hot inside” and “they will beat you if you do something bad”.
Oziegbe says the boys often ask her to ring Dublin Airport and “just tell them we are coming back”.
In Iyabo Nwanze and Elizabeth Odunsi’s sparse lodgings, a picture entitled Lagos:A Mega City sits on the floor. It reflects ambitious political plans to rehabilitate the infrastructure of this hectic metropolis, but progress will be slow.
Home for the two friends before they were deported from Ireland, in 2005, was a suburban estate in Athlone, in Co Westmeath. Home today is a small section of a house, with bars on the windows to discourage armed robbers, with a rudimentary cooking area just inside the doorway.
“Life has been really difficult,” says Nwanze, a mother of two, “but God has been so good to us and our kids and our families.”
Single parenthood is growing in Nigeria, but lone parents receive no support in a country with huge unemployment. Odunsi, a mother of four, says they “do odd jobs here and there to make ends meet”.
Both had lodged asylum claims in Ireland in 2001 and considered Athlone home. “It was quiet, peaceful, loving,” says Nwanze. “It was friendly and peaceful,” says Odunsi.
On March 14th, 2005, they went to Athlone Garda Station in what they say was a routine visit that people at risk of deportation must make. Each arrived with her youngest child, Odunsi with her son Bolu, Nwanze with her son Israel). Their other children – Nwanze’s son Emmanuel and Odunsi’s children Ayo, Oluwaseun and Segun – were at school. The women say they were detained and their mobile phones withheld.
Immigration officers went to find the four other children, then aged from eight to 17, and took Odunsi into Our Lady’s Bower Secondary School while searching for Ayo, who had earlier heard about the Garda presence in her estate and had left.
Noel Casey, now principal of the school, says he was stunned by the behaviour of the Garda: “I still remember that sense of, my God, what is happening here?”
Odunsi was held, “begging and crying for help”, and was warned not to be “foolish”, in a scene watched by dozens of girls at after-school study.
Later the then minister for justice, Michael McDowell, publicly accused the women of orchestrating a separation – a claim they denied – and he defended the Garda National Immigration Bureau against allegations by neighbours that officers had told them, “We know you black people cover up for yourselves.”
Casey made an official complaint to the Garda over officers’ behaviour at the school; a chief superintendent “came down and carried out an investigation”.
Casey understood that the force has changed some procedures as a result, but the Garda press office says it is unaware of “an investigation into” the Garda National Immigration Bureau after events in Athlone.
Many locals had opposed the deportation – or the manner of it – and a campaign headed by the late Frank Young advocated the women’s return to their children, who were in the care of the Nigerian community in different localities. Time magazine reported on proceedings.
Friends were troubled by events and still wish for their return. “We were highly affected negatively . . . Their children had mixed,” says Joshua Olufemi-Ojo, a friend, pastor and Dublin Bus driver who has residency because he is the father of an Irish citizen. None of Odunsi or Nwanze’s children was born in Ireland.
Today Odunsi’s three eldest children are grown and do not live at home – the space is “not conducive” – although Segun, who is now 19, did stop by during my visit. It was two years before the children left Ireland, according to Nwanze.
Both families were “overwhelmed” by the support they received. “You know, there’s this popular saying that out of sight is out of mind,” says Nwanze. “But although we were out of sight, the good people of Athlone and our friends still had us in mind.”
Their last day in Ireland still disturbs them: they describe shock, separation, an invitation to scream all they wanted because nobody would hear, a promise that they would never see Ireland again and, on arrival in Nigeria, the hours held at the notorious Kirikiri Prison until they were released on bail.
Odunsi shakes her head and Nwanze dissolves into tears.
This article was facilitated by the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund
Analysis: How many people have been deported from Ireland, and what legal options do they have?
Funmi Ojomu in Lagos with Drogheda-born daughter Claire. Photograph: Akinola Ariyo
Irish Refugee Council would like the deportation process to become more humane
The Irish Times 31 August, 2013
Between 2005 and 2012, 2,259 people were deported from Ireland, including 973 Nigerians who were predominantly failed asylum seekers.
Last year just over 8 per cent of Ireland’s decisions on all asylum and subsidiary-protection applications were positive, compared with 28 per cent in the UK. Nine hundred and fifty-six asylum applications were made in 2012, a 25 per cent reduction on 2011.
Nigeria has consistently been the main source country of asylum applicants to Ireland, who are subject to a “prioritised” process.
Africa’s most populous country is not at war, although spates of conflict are common in the volatile north while human trafficking, political violence and, in some areas, female genital mutilation are problems. Millions are affected by poverty and unemployment.
Refugee status relates to a “well-founded fear of persecution”; its seekers apply to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, with appeals considered by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.
If applications are rejected, people can apply for leave to remain and subsidiary protection at the Department of Justice. Subsidiary protection relates to a real risk of serious harm; leave to remain mostly concerns humanitarian considerations at the minister’s discretion.
Matthew Emeka Ezeani, a Nigerian-born solicitor, acknowledges that some applicants from Nigeria cause the authorities a headache but says it is important not to prejudge.
“The chances of having your fundamental human rights violated are much higher in Nigeria than any EU country,” he says.
Applicants in Ireland spend a long time in the process. Two-thirds of the 4,600 asylum seekers in privately run accommodation centres have been in the system for more than three years.
The Irish Refugeee Council says the processing of applications and appeals should take no more than six months.
This year about €57.5 million of State money will be spent accommodating asylum seekers.
The department says many people faced with the prospect of deportation “tend to delay the process by engaging in protracted legal proceedings”.
But NGOs point to delays building up at an earlier stage, particularly in the absence of a single procedure for concurrently considering asylum and subsidiary-protection claims. Ireland is the only EU country without a single procedure.
In 2012, after an application for guidance from Ireland’s High Court, an advocate general at the Court of Justice of the European Union wrote an opinion that referred to the “manifestly unreasonable” time of more than two years and three months that Ireland took to assess a Rwandan national’s claims for international protection.
“Mr M’s” application for refugee status in May 2008 took six and a half months to assess; his claim for subsidiary protection spent 21 months with the department.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said that a single procedure for assessment of asylum, subsidiary protection and leave to remain will be included in long-awaited immigration reform, but the Irish Refugee Council’s chief executive, Sue Conlan, says this will be no panacea for the thousands in the current system.
The department has stopped processing subsidiary-protection applications, arising from a High Court judgment in the case of Mr M.
The department is devising a new method of assessment that will include an interview; a notice on its website asks applicants to “bear with us”.
“I’ve known people to be taken out in their bedclothes to the airport, including children,” says Conlan.
According to the department, a deportation order requires a person to leave the State, “and it is only where they fail to do so” that they are forcibly removed.
It operates two voluntary return programmes with the International Organisation for Migration for people not yet subject to deportation orders.
The Garda National Immigration Bureau says that “on occasions” people have reacted violently to efforts to remove them from the State, “which has resulted in a number of personnel attached to the GNIB suffering serious personal injury”.
This article was facilitated by the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund.
The young Irish citizens forced abroad and unable to return home
Children of emigrants are seeking to come back to Ireland under the European Court of Justice’s landmark Zambrano judgement
The Irish Times 2 September, 2013
BY CATHERINE REILLY
“My daughter has a lot to contribute to Ireland, ” says Linda*, “just like every other Irish child.”
In Nigeria’s loud and chaotic commercial capital – where child hawkers serenade motorists stuck in “go slows” and traders eke out an existence in ramshackle shops – one wonders how many of Ireland’s forgotten children are faces in the crowd: young citizens whose parents are waiting for permission to return with their families to Ireland, under a landmark European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling.
Linda met The Irish Times in Ikeja, Lagos – home to the office of Governor of Lagos state Babatunde Fashola. The governor is an energetic administrator who has won praise for transport and sanitation reforms, and he has plans that are as huge as the city itself. However progress will be slow in a country ranked 153rd out of 186 in the UN Human Development Index.
Linda knows that the future may not come soon enough for her Irish citizen daughter. Her education is suffering and basic infrastructure lacking.
“Sometimes you do not get light for weeks,” says Linda, “What do you do?”
Linda was among several Nigerian parents of Irish citizens who spoke in person, or over the phone, to highlight waits of about two years to gain a visa to Ireland and apply for residency under the terms of the ECJ Zambrano judgment of March 2011.
The Zambrano ruling, which concerned a Colombian living in Belgium with Belgian citizen children, found that article 20 of the TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) precluded member states from refusing a non-EU national, upon whom his EU children were dependent, a right of residence in the member state of residence and nationality of those children. It also precluded such member states from refusing to grant a work permit to that non-European Union national.
The judgment has implications for all EU countries. Minister for Justice Alan Shattersubsequently announced that he had instructed officials to examine all relevant cases before the courts and instances where deportation was being considered. He said consideration would also be given to cases involving Irish citizen children who had to leave the State when their parents were refused permission to remain.
Ireland’s embryonic immigration system and the fact of automatic citizenship by birth having ceased in 2005, compared with 1983 in the case of Britain, has made Zambrano a somewhat more taxing affair for Ireland. However, the implications continue to play out across Europe.
In June, for example, the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) in the UK confirmed that there was no reason why the decision in Zambrano could not in principle be relied upon by the parent or other primary carer of a minor EU national living outside the EU as long as the intention was to accompany the child to his/her country of nationality.
In summer 2011, Linda applied for residence visas at the Irish Embassy in Nigeria so that the family could enter the State – with the Irish citizen child – and apply for residency. The intervening years have been spent trying to access the Embassy helpline and sending emails that have gone unanswered.
Sarah* is also awaiting a decision on a Zambrano-type visa application and shares similar experiences. “My [Irish citizen] daughter has stayed at home [in Lagos] for a couple of terms because I couldn’t afford the school fees,” she says. “I believe if we move over there [to Ireland] it’ll be easier for me to look after the kids. I don’t want to be dependent on anybody.”
The parents share a broadly similar profile – former asylum seekers who arrived in Ireland in the early 2000s and whose children were born in Ireland prior to the Constitutional amendment concerning citizenship by birth.
Parents of Irish citizen children had routinely been accorded residency until a landmarkSupreme Court judgment in the Lobe and Osayande cases in January 2003 found such parents did not have an automatic right to residency.
Subsequently, many of those who had not attained residency left Ireland voluntarily before deportation, or were deported with their Irish children.
Nigerian-born solicitor Matthew Emeka Ezeani, who formerly ran a Dublin legal practice and has handled many immigration cases, says the number of people in Nigeria potentially benefiting from Zambrano “would not be so huge that we should have concern”.
He agrees that the State has “a right to protect its borders”, but says it must also “do a balancing act to make sure that objectives achieved are not disproportionate to the interests or the rights of its citizens – such as citizen children born to foreign nationals”.
Concern for welfare
Many such children are living in developing countries.
“One is concerned about their welfare. If an adult Irish citizen has serious problems on holiday or on business abroad, the Department of Foreign Affairs offers consular assistance. Children are even more vulnerable and these children did not leave the jurisdiction of their own volition – they were forced to leave by a deliberate policy which we adopted.”
Over the years, he has heard of parents of Irish citizens turning up at the Irish Embassy in Nigeria begging for food.
Ezeani is aware of people who, having become frustrated with the long wait on their visa application, have entered Ireland illegally and successfully attained residency based on Zambrano principles. This is a risky course of action that he discourages.
Another solicitor has encountered similar cases, complaining: “I have people who are back in Africa, applying for visas, and if somebody comes in here illegally and applies [for residency] they seem to get preferential treatment.”
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity. This article was facilitated by the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund.
Correspondence raises doubts over how Ireland handles Zambrano visa requests
European Court of Justice ruling should entitle parents of Irish citizen children to return to the State with their families
According to the Department of Justice, families living outside Ireland with Irish citizen children can seek to benefit from the Zambrano judgment.
However, correspondence seen by The Irish Times casts doubt on whether this position has been applied consistently.
A visa applicant in Lagos produced a letter from the Embassy of Ireland in Nigeria that was issued in response to a visa application under Zambrano.
‘Not general policy’
The letter stated that it was “not general policy” to grant a long-stay visa to visa-required nationals who were family members of minor citizen children “where those children are not normally resident in the State”.
There was also a reference to the applicant having shown insufficient “evidence of relationship to Irish citizen child” and the applicant awaits word on an appeal.
According to Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre in Cork, it has acted on a number of Zambrano-related visa applications and has “found that they are subject to lengthy delays”. It has had some success in individual cases where the child had not been ordinarily resident in Ireland.
“We believe that INIS [Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service] should publish a clear statement of its policy for visa applicants who have dependant Irish citizen children and provide an expedited visa process to enable these Irish children to enjoy their rights as EU citizens and live in Ireland,” said a spokesperson.
Alan Shatter’s Department of Justice said it had no statistics on visa and residency outcomes pertaining to applicants under Zambrano who had been living outside Ireland.
“While it is known that some persons have applied to Ireland’s Embassies abroad for visas to facilitate travel to, and residence in, Ireland, based on principles of the Zambrano judgment, we do not record such persons’ cases in a manner as would enable their cases to be disaggregated from overall visa applications,” it stated.
However, the department has statistics on people who had been living in Ireland and benefited from residency through the Zambrano judgment.
To date some 2,990 people have applied for residency, with 1,861 approved and 124 refused (806 applications were pending, 126 were ineligible and 73 described as miscellaneous). These figures did not include people whose residency stamp had been upgraded following the Zambrano ruling.
Refusals related to a failure to produce documentation that proved identity, insufficient evidence of their role in the life of the Irish child; and criminality.
The department added: “While many of the [1,861 successful applicants] would not have been solely Zambrano cases, such persons were granted permission to remain nonetheless based on their parentage of an Irish-born minor citizen child and on the other rights they had accumulated since their arrival in this State. Such decisions would clearly have had regard for the best interests of the Irish citizen children involved.”
This article was facilitated by the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund.
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