Galway family has ‘wonderful reunion’ with au pair after 2017 prison stay

Paloma Aparezida Silva-Carvalho jailed last year after being denied entry for holiday

Paloma with Karin and Jorg Muller-Weiland and the couple’s two children Aoife and Reuben. Photograph: Karin Muller-Wieland.

Paloma with Karin and Jorg Muller-Weiland and the couple’s two children Aoife and Reuben. Photograph: Karin Muller-Wieland.

 

A Co Galway family had a “wonderful reunion” with the Brazilian woman who was strip-searched and imprisoned overnight after trying to visit them last year.

In July 2017, Paloma Aparezida Silva-Carvalho, who had previously worked as an au pair for the Muller-Wieland family in Moycullen, was held overnight at Dóchas women’s prison at Mountjoy because immigration officers did not believe she was coming for a holiday.

They thought she intended to work while in the country and because of this she was “refused leave to land” and was detained while she waited for a flight back to Switzerland, where she had come from after visiting her fiance there.

She had planned to visit the Muller-Wieland family in Galway for two months, and her mother was due to come from Brazil to join her. Both of their return flights were booked for September 25th.

However, she was taken to prison, strip-searched and put in a cell with another woman who spent the night vomiting in and around the sink.

She was released on July 19th after one night in prison, and given permission to stay in Ireland for 14 days. Her passport was confiscated.

She became one of our family. The children are mad about her and she is about them

She described the experience as “the longest night of my life”. Now, one year on, Paloma is “doing much better”, Karin Muller-Wieland says.

“We had a wonderful reunion in Spain this year with Paloma and her mother. We spent six days together and it was amazing for the children, really emotional and really good to finally get to meet her Mum, a year later – a year delayed,” Karin said.

“It took its toll, it took quite a number of months for her to get over the ordeal - longer probably – but I’m really delighted to see her getting back on her feet.”

‘She became one of our family’

Paloma had worked as an au pair for Karin and Jorg Muller-Weiland between September 2015 and December 2016, minding the couple’s two children Aoife and Reuben.

During those 18 months, Paloma also studied English in Galway city.

“She became one of our family. The children are mad about her and she is about them,” Karin said at the time.

Paloma Aparezida Silva-Carvahlo (centre) with Karin Muller-Wieland and her husband and their children. Photograph: Karin Mueller Wieland
Paloma Aparezida Silva-Carvahlo (centre) with Karin Muller-Wieland and her husband and their children. Photograph: Karin Mueller Wieland

In June this year, almost one year after her ordeal at Mountjoy, Paloma finally had the reunion she had planned with the Co Galway family.

“I kept it secret from the children,” Ms Mueller-Wieland explained.

“We just drove up to where she was in Spain and my daughter just couldn’t close her mouth. We were bawling crying. It was so healing for the children to see her it was very cute,” she told The Irish Times.

“She is full of hope and positivity for the future. She is working away doing a course in make-up artistry and she went to visit her fiance in Switzerland as well, that’s still going strong.

“What heartened me the most is that they are looking into revisiting their plans of coming back to Ireland, as they had planned before, for her to continue her English studies here eventually, in the next couple of years.

“The strength of human nature to overcome hardship really struck me,” Karin said.

Stopped and questioned

It has not been an easy road for Paloma or for the Muller-Wielands, however.

Paloma was stopped and questioned at the airport in Portugal, which she flew into from Brazil with her mother on their way to meet the Muller-Wielands in Spain.

It is unclear if this incident is in any way connected with her previous experience coming to Ireland in 2017.

She also says that the ordeal will “always be with her” and has told Karin that when people ask her about the incident in great detail she “has to be careful . . . because I find myself still going to a very dark place.

“I know that now and I need to be careful and mind myself in those dark times,” Paloma says.

“You can’t undo what’s been done, but you can learn and hope that it’s actually going to create change,” Karin says.

Paloma Aparecida Silva-Carvalho with Karin and Jorg Muller at their home near Moycullen. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy.
Paloma Aparecida Silva-Carvalho with Karin and Jorg Muller at their home near Moycullen. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

Muller-Wieland was interviewed by Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support centre in Co Cork, for its report Immigration Detention & Border Control in Ireland and said “it was very meaningful” for Paloma’s story to be included.

That report found that “prisons are not suitable locations for the detention of people for immigration-related offences” and cited Paloma’s case as an example of “the dangers inherent in this policy” of detaining people who are refused leave to land in cells or prisons.

Dublin airport detention centre

The Department of Justice said last July that works had begun on a dedicated immigration detention centre at Dublin Airport and that it would be completed by July 2018.

However, that deadline has passed and the facilities are still not open.

In a statement to The Irish Times, the Office of Public Works said the construction was due to be completed by the end of 2018.

“The OPW awarded the contract for the renovation and fit-out of Transaer House to PJ Hegarty & Sons on Monday 9th April 2018.

“Works commenced on site on 8th May and are expected to be completed by end of this year. Transaer House will accommodate a facility for the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) and a new Garda station,” the statement said.

As we wait for these facilities to be completed, thousands of people are being detained in prisons and Garda cells across the State.

Figures released by the Garda Press Office showed that in 2017, a total of 3,908 people were refused leave to land at all points of entry across Ireland. Of this number, 768 people claimed asylum while the remaining 3,140 were removed from the State.

The majority of these people would have been held in Garda station cells or prisons while waiting for their passage home, a spokesperson for the Garda press office confirmed.

Figures for 2018 were not available at the time of writing.

Karin hopes that Paloma’s story will bring about a change to the policy of detention. “What struck me the most as things unravelled with Paloma at the time was how many people over the years have been affected by the policy of detention in Irish prisons.

“By Paloma’s case being highlighted, it gave a voice to so many silent people, hundreds.”

“You can’t undo what’s been done, but you can learn and hope that it’s actually going to create change”.

One Year On is an Irish Times series which revisits some of the biggest stories from last year to see what has happened since. Are there any stories you would like to see an update on? Email ntowey@irishtimes.com.