Death and the threat of deportation: a mother’s story of grief
Ada’s residency papers arrived in the post just weeks after her son David (9) died
Ada: ‘I miss my son because he is the one who give me joy. He was a lovely boy.’ Photograph: Getty Sickle cell anaemia is an inherited red blood cell disorer. Photograph: Getty
Ada’s son David was born in Ireland with a severe form of sickle cell disease and never left the country during his short life as his mother battled an order for their deportation to her native Nigeria.
She was so desperate she turned to prostitution for a time to fund his medical treatment. Her son was nine when he died just over a year ago. His heart-broken mother now tells their story:
“There was always two of us, now I am one.”
Ada’s residency papers arrived in the post just weeks after David died. (Both names have been changed to protect their anonymity.)
David had been diagnosed with a severe form of sickle cell disease within months of his birth here in 2009 and received considerable treatment over the years.
Ada had spent almost his entire life resisting their deportation.
“I opened the envelope and saw the letter and I felt nothing. Then I felt David with me, saying, ‘See, Mummy, we did it, we did it!’”
Her eyes fill with tears.
“He wanted the papers so much, he kept asking would they ever come. He wanted to travel, he wanted to go to France. To Disneyworld . . .” Her voice trails off.
David died just over a year ago.
Ada’s grief is still very raw.
“I feel empty, there is nothing. There was always two of us and now I am one. I miss David, I miss my son, I miss him, I miss him. He is such a good boy.”
Ada regularly refers to David in the present tense. Reaching into her handbag, she proudly produces a photo of a happy, smiling boy. He wears a bright T-shirt and beams into the camera as he stands alongside two young friends.
Ada takes back the photo and studies it intently before wiping her eyes and resuming her story.
She was in her 30s and pregnant when she came here from Nigeria more than 10 years ago. Her parents died in a road accident when she was a young girl, she left school early and lived unhappily for a time with a relative before leaving to fend for herself. She later met and married a man with whom she had a son.
She says she fled Nigeria because her father-in-law, whom she had just met, was part of a sect that practised human sacrifice. When he commented on her pregnancy, she was warned by others her baby was at risk. She left behind her husband and their older son, then aged about seven, who later went to live with a friend.
Trauma and sadness
Her time in Ireland has been replete with trauma and sadness.
When she first arrived, she was detained in the Dóchas centre in Mountjoy but taken from there shortly afterwards to give birth to David in March 2008 at Dublin’s Mater hospital. “I was so happy when he was born but wishing I was not alone.”
Ada and David were living in an accommodation centre in north Co Dublin when David was diagnosed at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin with sickle cell disease, a hereditary red blood cell disorder. “I didn’t know anything about it, I didn’t even know my own blood group.”
It was four weeks after his birth and she was very upset when doctors told her the condition could not be cured. Treatment, she was told, was essential and would help.
“I was in hospital every two weeks when he was a baby, I never missed it. When he got older, it was maybe every three weeks or once a month. Sometimes I had to stay in hospital with him if there was a crisis.”
During this time, mother and son were living in a direct provision centre in the midlands.
Ada had applied for asylum status but her application was refused and a deportation order was served in 2011. Her reaction was panic and to drop out of the immigration system. A medical card which had been provided to her to meet the treatment costs expired and she was desperate financially; desperate enough to sometimes resort to prostitution.
“Sometimes I would go to the club. Some would give me money but sometimes the man would not give me money.”
She got involved with a man and stayed with him for a time.
“He was giving me money and I would use it to buy medication but sometimes when he came in from work he would beat me in front of my son. This went on for a time until my son asked me one day what happened to my face. He said ‘I saw that man slapping you.’ I thought to myself I can’t continue this.”
She left the man and returned to the club which she says was like a lap-dancing venue.
“Once, I said no and this man raped me. I don’t like even talking about it. I told them at the hospital what was happening and said I can’t stand it. I said to them: ‘How else am I going to get the medication for my son?’”
The hospital alerted social workers and this led to Ada getting back into the immigration system with the HSE resuming the funding of David’s treatment in 2014.
Ada also got in touch with a solicitor, Brian Burns, who specialises in immigration law.
Burns initiated proceedings on behalf of Ada and David aimed at preventing their deportation on grounds centring on the seriousness of the child’s medical condition.
Ada feared deportation would seriously affect her son’s health due to the quality of treatment available in Nigeria and her inability to pay for it.
They remained in direct provision centres as the case progressed slowly through the High Court and the Supreme Court.
Ada had to juggle bringing David with her to sign on with immigration along with his hospital appointments, often involving long journeys from Munster to Crumlin and back again. After her solicitor intervened, it was eventually agreed the unwell David did not have to accompany his mother on the immigration appointments.
In opposing their challenge, the State authorities did not dispute the seriousness of David’s medical condition but maintained it was not a legal basis for refusing deportation.
In a judgment last year, the Supreme Court agreed with the Minister, saying the fact David could get superior medical treatment here than in his mother’s native Nigeria did not entitle mother and son to remain here. However, the court pointed out the Minister had discretion to prevent deportation on humanitarian grounds.
Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell said: “There is a difference between what a decision maker must do, and what such a person may do. Humanitarian considerations are not the sole preserve of the courts, national or supranational.”
While refusing the appeal over deportation, the Supreme Court had said a fresh application to revoke could be made based on a 2016 European Court of Human Rights decision, the Paposhvilli decision. That set out criteria for assessing bids to prevent deportations of people with serious medical conditions.
The court stressed the Paposhvilli ruling maintained a high threshold for preventing deportation based on Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right not to be exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment.
Just months later, and while a fresh revocation application was being prepared, David died.
There was no warning, Ada says.
David, then aged nine, had had a blood transfusion two days earlier after which his mother took him from their centre in Munster to stay overnight with friends in Dublin. David woke her in the middle of the night, asking for water and complaining of a headache.
“I got him water and he said he was okay but next day he was shaking, saying he was cold and then hot.” They called an ambulance and David was initially taken to the emergency room at Crumlin hospital but was then moved to intensive care. A friend, a religious pastor, came and they both prayed.
Within 24 hours of his arrival at the hospital, David was dead.
Ada is still awaiting an autopsy result. “They told me they would do an autopsy, I still don’t know what happened, I need to know.”
Trying to continue normal life is a struggle for the bereft Ada. She is on medication and undergoing counselling.
Asked how she is managing, she replies: “There is nothing.”
She looks down at her hands. “I miss my son, I miss my son because he is the one who gives me joy. He was a lovely boy, he doesn’t want anything to hurt me. I remember when I was sick, he was crying, he said, ‘Mummy, don’t worry, just relax, I will do everything for you.’”
Now that she has residency, her overwhelming priority is to have her other son, now aged almost 18, come and live with her here. He felt abandoned when she left Nigeria and has only recently agreed to have some contact with her and to apply for a visa to come here.
“I want him to come, I want to see him, be with him. If that does not happen, I have nothing. I see other children with their mothers, I’m not happy, I just feel empty. All the time, I just feel depressed. There is nothing.”
* If you have been affected by this article, there are a number of support groups available including:
Anam Cara, which supports bereaved parents, can be contacted at (01) 404 5378;
First Light, a support group for families who have lost a child, at firstlight.ie or helpline 1850 391 391; or
Samaritans, by dialing 116123, texting 087-2609090, or email firstname.lastname@example.org