The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice ( JCFJ) today called for an end to detention of asylum seekers entering Ireland and for reform of the 1996 Refugee Act. They also called for greater transparency and more information on the reasons for detention and the number of asylum seekers detained.
Speaking at the launch of the Centre’s journal Working Notes, “Refugees and Asylum Seekers: No to the Silence of Indifference”, Mr Eugene Quinn, Director of JCFJ, argued: “Detention involves deprivation of a person’s right to liberty. A state should only use detention as a measure of last resort.” Under the 1996 Refugee Act there are six grounds under which an immigration officer with ‘reasonable cause’ can detain an asylum seeker entering the state, including a failure to adequately establish their identity or travelling with no or false travel documents. “At present an asylum seeker can be detained for months on these grounds. These, however, are the very issues about which the asylum process is supposed to assess. We call for an end to detention of on these grounds and reform of the current legislation.”
Greater Transparency Required
Last year 946 people were detained under immigration provisions. Commenting on that figure Mr Quinn argued that there is need for specific data on the extent to which asylum seekers are being detained. He pointed out that, “it is not clear how many of these people had just arrived at an airport, sought protection and were taken off to prison.” In light of the absence of specific information, the Centre is calling for clearer procedures to record the reasons for detention under immigration provisions. “Not only are we detaining people under immigration provisions but the length of time people spend in detention has also increased.”, said Mr Quinn, referring to the fact that 619 people were detained for longer than 50 days in 2004 compared with 367 in 2003.
Detention under criminal law only
Accepting the State’s right and duty to protect its borders the Centre argues that the current practice reflects a bias in favour of security concerns over and against the state’s duty to protect the rights of vulnerable people who seek asylum. According to Mr Quinn, “Asylum seekers should not be detained except on those grounds that relate to threats to national security or suspected criminal activity and detention on these grounds should be regulated by criminal legislation with due process guarantees and not under immigration control legislation”.
Access to Legal Advice
The Centre makes a number of recommendations to safeguard the rights of asylum seekers entering the state. Central to these is access to legal assistance, which would require either the provision of legal services in airports or ports of entry or the availability of a twenty four hour dedicated telephone line with a panel of solicitors on call.