How official language masks human heartbreak

Miriam Alli is a Nigerian woman who lives in Ireland with her five children – who are all Irish-born and Irish citizens. Juwon is 11, Arafat is eight, twins Kenny and Tai are five, and Shukra is six months.

Earlier this year, their father, Kabir, was taken away by officers of the Garda National Immigration Bureau and deported. Kabir is one of many fathers who came to Ireland seeking asylum a few years after their wives moved here and gave birth.

The official and legal justifications

So what did the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, have to say? He said that Ireland operated “probably one of the most progressive immigration laws in western Europe” but “our system must also be robust”.

The High Court rejected a challenge – based mainly on the Irish Constitution’s protection of families and children – to Kabir’s deportation order in December 2009. Judge Maureen Clark said she was satisfied that deporting Kabir would not “impact in an excessive way on the personal and family rights of his wife and children as there were no insurmountable obstacles to their going with him to Nigeria”.

She also said that Miriam would not be “excessively inconvenienced if her husband returned to Nigeria”. After all, she pointed out, Miriam had managed to live without him for three years.

Let’s see what “progressive but robust” immigration laws and “no excessive impact” on the rights of wife and children mean in human terms.

The family’s feelings

The family were interviewed by Irish Times Social Affairs correspondent Jamie Smyth (3 April 2010, Irish Times). Eleven-year-old Juwon said he greatly missed his father. “He used to play football with me every day and help with the local team that I play for here in Lusk.”

Five-year-old Tai said: “I like Ireland and my school, but I miss my daddy. I want him back.”

Miriam does not want to return to Nigeria. “The education they get in Ireland is much better than in Nigeria. My children are also integrated into Irish life and I have to think of them first, so we will stay.”

She added: “The children have cried a lot since Kabir was taken away, and they get angry a lot.”

Barnardos advocacy director Norah Gibbons commented: “One day your father is there with you in the family and then a hand reaches in and removes him. This is bound to make a child feel unsafe. It could lead to disruptive behaviour, poor performance at school and make it difficult for a remaining parent.”

She added: “We claim in this country to cherish all children equally.”

Henry and Gillian

In another case (also reported in the same article by Jamie Smyth), Henry Olabode was bundled on to a charter jet at Dublin Airport in March, and flown to Lagos. He had come to Ireland in 2007 and applied for asylum, claiming his life was in danger because he had campaigned against hostage-taking in the Niger Delta region in Nigeria.

While waiting to be ‘processed’, he met an Irish woman, Gillian, who lives in Athlone with two children from a previous relationship. She and Henry married shortly before his claim was rejected. They lived together for nearly one year.

Gillian told Jamie Smyth: “I met him when I was out for a few drinks with friends, and we clicked right away. They took him away from me without interviewing us or asking any questions about our marriage.

“I’m heartbroken and will fight to get him back into the country. This is unfair. Why can’t an Irish citizen choose who to marry?”

Stop complaining, Gillian. Irish immigration laws may be robust, but they are progressive. And remember: you may be heartbroken, but you are not excessively heartbroken.

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