‘I had to take off my clothes, I got very upset. I felt I had committed some crime’

Brazilian tourist tells of being brought from airport to Dóchas women’s prison

Two days after arriving in Ireland for a holiday, Paloma Aparecida Silva-Carvalho has had little or no sleep, no idea why she was taken to prison, and no clue as to when she might get her passport back.

The 24-year-old Brazilian should have been taking a bus to Galway from Dublin Airport on Tuesday evening, where she would be met by a family with whom she intended to spend two months.

Instead, she was in a prison cell for a night and a day, and subjected to a strip search in the Dóchas Centre at Mountjoy. “I think it was the longest night of my life,” she said of her experience.

She only realised she was actually in prison when she was asked to 'sign papers, take off my clothes and turn around'

"I was coming to visit my friends, the Muller-Wielands,"she explained to The Irish Times, sitting in the family's home outside Moycullen, Co Galway.


Ms Silva-Carvalho had worked as an au pair last year for the couple who have two young children and run the successful herbal tea business, Solaris Tea, which they founded in 2003.

However, this visit was to be a holiday and Ms Silva-Carvalho had visited her fiance in Switzerland before flying to Dublin. Brazilian nationals do not need a visa to visit Ireland for up to 90 days.

Her return flight to Brazil via Portugal had been booked for September 24th, and the plan was that her mother, Vanda, would arrive in Ireland in early September and they would spend time with the Muller-Wielands before travelling home.

Instead, she was detained at passport control, questioned and driven to “accommodation” by gardaí.

“I was told they would deport me on Thursday morning, but that in the meantime I had to be taken somewhere to stay,” she said.

She said she only realised she was actually in prison when she was asked to “sign papers, take off my clothes and turn around”.

“I don’t think my mother wants to come to Ireland now, and she is still very, very upset,”Ms Silva-Carvalho said.

“I was trying all the time to be strong and not to cry when they took all my possessions, my jewellery, my sunglasses, and the chocolates my fiance had given me,”she recalled, describing the events of Tuesday evening.

“But when they said I had to take off my clothes, I got very upset,”she said. “I felt I had committed some crime.”

“They offered me something to eat but it was reheated food, it looked like mash potato with some meat, and I couldn’t eat,” she said.

She was told she could drink water from the sink in the cell she shared with another woman. However, her companion spent most of the night vomiting in and around the sink, and was extremely ill.

“She told me she was homeless and alcoholic, and I rang for a guard as I was worried about her,” Ms Silva-Carvalho said. “I think I might have slept for one or two hours at most.”

At this point, she had only been able to make one six-minute telephone call and contacted her fiance to explain the situation.

The Muller-Wielands had received a telephone call at around 4.30pm on Tuesday, when they were asked to confirm she was coming to stay with them. They had no indication at this point she was being held.

“I asked my fiance not to tell my mother as she would worry a lot, but when I did get to phone my mother the next day, she could hear noise in the background and she knew something was very wrong,” Ms Silva-Carvalho said.

The Muller-Wielands had meanwhile received a distraught call from the young woman’s mother, and were equally upset.

“We were trying to find out where she was, [and] eventually got through to Dóchas and managed to confirm she was there, but [we] were not allowed to speak to her until Wednesday,” Karin Muller-Wieland said.

The couple contacted a solicitor, arranged a visit to Dóchas and filed a High Court application for her release. Ms Silva-Carvalho says that at no time was she offered recourse to legal advice.

“I was examined on Wednesday by a nurse and a doctor in the prison, and asked if I had a problem with drugs or alcohol, if I was pregnant, and I was asked to give a sample of urine,” she said.

The solicitor telephoned Ms Muller-Wieland on Wednesday evening to say his court application had failed, and it appeared there was nothing that could stop the deportation

“We were all in tears, I had to tell Paloma, and we drove back to Galway so upset,” Ms Muller-Wieland said. They were just back in Galway, when they received a telephone call to say Ms Silva-Carvalho was being released. She was later given permission to remain in Ireland for 10 days.

Jorg Muller turned the car around and drove back to Dublin. Meanwhile, Ms Silva-Carvalho was so upset that she had asked to be taken to the airport to fly to Switzerland.

“They had given me a plastic bag so I took everything, and in the car they told me I could stay two weeks in Ireland,” she said. “They dropped me at the airport terminal and told me to go to the information desk and get my luggage.”

A family friend of the Muller-Wielands drove out to the airport to sit with her until Mr Muller arrived. He drove to Moycullen with her, arriving at about 4.30am on Thursday.

“The whole idea of having an au pair is intercultural integration, and it is natural that your au pair will become part of your family and your friend,” Ms Muller Wieland says.

Ms Silva-Carvalho has been informed that her passport is with Garda immigration, and that it will be returned to her when she leaves. However, the deportation order is still in place, she has less than a fortnight in Ireland, and is concerned she may face difficulties in accessing other European countries on the basis of her detention in Ireland.

Mr Muller said there appeared to be no legal clarity, and he questioned why Ms Silva-Carvalho was taken to prison.

“Why are people who do not require a visa being treated suspiciously,” he said. “If a visa system is required, at least there would be clarity.”

A Garda spokesman said he could not comment on individual cases but confirmed Brazilian nationals do not need a visa to visit Ireland for up to 90 days.

A Prison Service statement said it does not comment on individual prisoners or cases, but that it “must accept all those committed to its custody and does not have the option of refusing committals”.

“The reception area of the Dóchas Centre is where searching is normally conducted, ie, on committal to prison and on discharge. On arrival to the reception area, prisoners were searched and were then asked to sit on the Boss [body orifice scanner] chair.

“At no time are male officers present in the reception area while women were being searched. A female officer supervises the prisoners as they are searched. All individual searching of female prisoners was carried out by female staff. Prisoners are given nightdress/gowns to protect their modesty.”

The couple have paid tribute to the community in Galway who have been very supportive, and to politicians they had contacted.

“I love Ireland, but I never thought I would have an experience like this,” Ms Silva-Carvalho says. “And for my parents, who have no English, and my brother, who was making so many phone calls, this has been so very difficult.”

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times