Airport Immigration Controls


Sir, - It was All-Ireland Sunday. Everyone else seemed to be going to Croke Park to see Kerry or Galway win. The atmosphere through the city centre and Drumcondra was happy, carefree, colourful, with noisy supporters everywhere and the sun beating down. On these days it's good to be Irish. We're friendly, fun-loving, generous in victory and defeat and we'll wave our flags and celebrate no matter what . . . Or will we?

I was going to the airport to meet a passenger, whom I shall call "John". He was coming to spend a year as a student in Dublin. He had taken more than a week to get to Ireland, having got caught up in the rising violence in Sierra Leone. He had become separated from his family - and his luggage - in his efforts to dodge the guerillas, but now he was safe. He had managed to protect his vital travel documents - passport, visa, acceptance letters from the college, verification of fees paid. All were in order. John's plane touched down at 3.30 p.m. I can only imagine his relief at arrival after what he had been through. Then he met Irish Immigration.

There are some flags we don't wave and it seems there is a limit to our generosity. It was two-and-a-half hours later before John cleared Immigration. Having his documents in order seemed to count for little. His initial experience of Irish hospitality was of raised voices, disrespect and discrimination.

I accept that Immigration officials have a job to do, that illegal immigration is a problem, that measures to deter drug-smuggling is necessary. Nevertheless, there are questions to be raised. I have met many foreign students at the airport. On four different occasions their experience with Immigration was similar to John's. Each time, the student in question was black.

I cannot help thinking that had John been a white American, Canadian or Australian he would have had a very different experience at Dublin Airport. As we motored back through the crowds, amid all the fanfare and cheering, I felt ashamed of us. Somehow the green-and-gold and maroon flags had lost their cheerful innocence. Ireland has a noble record in terms of social concern abroad. It seems to me that we have less to cheer about at home. - Yours, etc.,

Dorrie Balfe, OP, Cabra, Dublin 3.