Muslim women ‘entitled to privacy’ Garda says

Screens provided for visa applicants at offices of the Garda National Immigration Bureau

Crowds of between 600 to 700 foreign nationals gather outside the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) on Burgh Quay in Dublin in the early hours of Monday morning to queue for work, study and re-entry visas.

 

Muslim women wearing headscarves are entitled to privacy when they apply for visas, the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) has said, following complaints from those visiting its offices.

Saudi Arabian students are “extremely unhappy” about the treatment they receive at the GNIB’s Burgh Quay offices in Dublin, according to Ebbas Ali of AFA Consultancy, which brings foreign students from the Gulf states to study in Ireland.

Saudi students strongly objected to “females being asked to remove their face cover in a public place”, he said, adding that it was humiliating for some Muslim women to have their photo taken in public.

However, the GNIB said women were entitled to ask for a screen to be used during meetings with immigration officers, though headscarves and veils must be removed so that the full face – but also the ears – of an applicant were visible.

“The configuration of the booths allow for photos to be taken, and if required a screen can be placed at the entrance,” said a GNIB spokesman, adding that staff can use an on-call translation service if applicants do not have enough English.

In a letter to Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, however, Mr Ali said students from Gulf states were “voting with their feet and choosing countries who are more sensitive to their culture”.

“Ireland is losing a lot of money because many students choose to go elsewhere because the visa system is much simpler and less costly elsewhere,” Mr Ali wrote to the Minister in a letter seen by The Irish Times.

Dr Ali Selim from the Islamic Cultural Centre said he had met Supt John O’Driscoll of the GNIB in 2012 to discuss cultural sensitivities towards the Muslim community at visa application centres.

Having explained the reluctance of women to take off scarves, on religious grounds, Dr Selim said he appreciated the “flexibility and understanding” that had been shown, to respect the culture of those coming to the Burgh Quay offices.

Reasonable privacy should be provided for women, along with meetings with female immigration officers, he said. “If a woman chooses to cover her face in a particular way, I think her wishes should be respected,” he added.

An online system to handle visa renewal applications has been introduced, but there are complaints that it has been poorly advertised. It is written in English only, so is of little use to foreigners travelling to Ireland to learn English.

The Department of Justice announced on Twitter on November 11th that re-entry visa appointments could be made online from November 16th, though it has not been promoted since then.

Saying that the system was working well, the Department of Justice said the introduction of the new service meant people seeking re-entry visas no longer needed to queue outside the offices on Burgh Quay – a long-standing complaint of those applying.

“If they wish to attend in person, they must first make an appointment to do so,” said Andrew Kelly, an official with the department, though “the simplest and easiest way” to apply was by registered post.

“There is no necessity to attend at the public office and all applicants are urged to make full use of the postal service insofar as possible,” said Mr Kelly, He added that postal applications were normally processed within 10 working days.

Separate arrangements for foreign students registering from the main Dublin universities – DCU, DIT, RCSI, Trinity College and UCD – were also introduced in October to help address queuing times, according to the department.