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
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 landmark Supreme 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.