421 people committed to prison in 2016 on immigration-related issues
Ireland criticised for holding immigration detainees alongside sentenced prisoners
Up to the end of May this year there had been 163 committals for immigration issues. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
More than 400 people were held in prison last year in relation to immigration issues, mainly awaiting deportation.
Figures from the Irish Prison Service show 421 people were committed in 2016 on immigration-related issues. This compares with 342 in 2015.
Up to the end of May this year, there had been 163 committals for immigration issues.
Irish-based NGOs and international bodies, including the United Nations and the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture, have criticised Ireland for holding immigration detainees who are not criminals alongside remand and sentenced prisoners.
There is no dedicated facility in Ireland for holding people awaiting deportation, but a spokesman for the Department of Justice said plans were in place to provide such a facility at Dublin airport.
The spokesman said it was the practice to remove anyone due for deportation, or refused entry to the State, “on the next available flight or ship”, and the persons had to be securely accommodated until this happened.
If a flight or boat is not immediately available, they may be held in prison for anything from a few hours to several weeks.
There are 12 grounds in the 2004 Immigration Act in which a Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) officer may refuse someone entry to the State.
People may be refused because they may not be able to support themselves or any dependant while in Ireland; they intend to work without having the required visa; they require an entry visa but do not have one; or their presence in the State could threaten national security or be contrary to public policy.
Under the legislation GNIB officers must explain in writing why they are refusing someone entry. Translation services should be provided when needed.
The person may be arrested and held at a “prescribed place for the purpose of facilitating their removal from the State”, which must take place as soon as is practicable.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) and the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) say such a place should never be a prison.
Fiona Ní Chinnéide, acting executive director of the IPRT, said it was “wholly unacceptable” that any immigration detainee should be held in a prison as they were not criminals. She said detention in the Dóchas centre in Dublin was “particularly problematic” as it is “regularly overcrowded”.
A spokeswoman said the ICI was “absolutely concerned at the ongoing detention” in prison of people facing deportation. The council called for the provision of “alternative, appropriate accommodation” for such people.
Detention in prisons will be raised at the United Nations in Geneva next week when Ireland appears before the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT). The UNCAT, after Ireland last appeared before it in 2011, recommended the Irish authorities “take measures to ensure that persons detained for immigration-related reasons are held in facilities appropriate to their status”.