Refugee law ignores basic rights and safeguards, warns Amnesty

 

The "punitive" new refugee law ignores basic human rights concerns and denies fundamental legal safeguards to asylum-seekers, the Irish section of Amnesty International says.

Ms Ursula Fraser, the organisation's refugee officer, said large chunks of international human rights law were "ruthlessly ignored" in the Refugee Act, which became law a month ago.

Ms Fraser was speaking yesterday at the launch of a booklet she wrote on asylum law and policy. She said it explained the "difficult and unjust obstacle course someone seeking asylum must overcome."

While Amnesty welcomed the new statutory framework introduced in the Refugee Act, it had "a lot of reservations" about how it might work in practice, she said.

Asylum-seekers are people who seek State protection as refugees on the grounds that they are fleeing persecution in another country. If granted refugee status, they are entitled to live and work in Ireland. If refused, they face deportation.

Ms Fraser was particularly critical of the new powers in the Act to detain asylum-seekers in Garda stations, which was worrying and "wholly inappropriate". She also highlighted Amnesty's concerns at accelerated procedures in the Act for processing asylum claims. Amnesty fears that asylum-seekers could be returned to countries where they may be in danger.

The Act "ignores basic human rights concerns and denies asylum applicants fundamental legal safeguards," she said.

The publication, Asylum Law and Policy in Ireland - A Critical Guide, states that the Act "endangers people fleeing torture and death, discriminates against those needing asylum, allows for their detention when they have committed no crime, and pushes through applications without proper legal process."

The director of Amnesty International's Irish section, Ms Mary Lawlor, said the line has been blurred in Ireland between asylum-seekers and economic migrants seeking a better life.

"The only way to determine who is a refugee is to have a fair procedure."

Ms Lawlor highlighted the case of a teenage Somali asylum-seeker living in Clonakilty, Co Cork, who witnessed his parents being tortured and killed.

"You know that he goes down the street and people think, `Oh, a black sponger', and no one knows the pain he has gone through." She said the new booklet would be a practical tool for anyone interested in asylum-seekers or refugees. It is available from Amnesty International's Dublin office for £5.