In a 4-day period from Monday December 14th, four asylum seekers were arrested by gardai and held in Mountjoy prison as arrangements were made for their deportation. In one case - that of Joseph Ekundayo Ominiyi, a Nigerian - he was actually taken to the airport in the early hours of Wednesday morning (just hours before he was due to meet his legal representatives) where he was dragged along the ground with a hand held over his mouth, as attempts were made to physically force him on to an Aer Lingus flight to Brussels. Despite suffering bruising all over his body, it was Ekundayo who ended up being charged with assault.
Even though these events occurred in the week leading up to Christmas, ARC members and supporters swung into action in an impressive show of strength and solidarity. A twin strategy of public protest and court action proved to be the winning formula. Protests were held outside Mountjoy prison almost nightly (The first of these, despite only a couple of hours notice, attracted about 80 people). A picket was held on the Department of Justice's new "One Stop Shop" in Dublin. The Dublin offices of Aer Lingus in were also picketed, with protestors calling on Aer Lingus workers not to co-operate with deportations. On the night before Christmas Eve a very successful protest was held outside the arrivals lounge at Dublin Airport.
This protest was held to make the point that while Ireland welcomed home thousands of economic emigrants for Christmas, the Irish government was attempting to deport from this country people who had come here in search of a better life. It was a point which was not lost on the hundreds of people arriving home who had been forced out of Ireland by the economic policies of the same politicians who are now pursuing a pro-deportation policy. Protest actions were also carried out by Immigrant Solidarity in Cork and Mid-West Against Racism in Limerick.
In tandem with the public protests, legal teams were assembled at short notice and in all four cases injunctions were obtained, preventing the deportations pending a judicial review. These legal teams were assembled due to co-operation between ARC, the Association of Nigerian Asylum Seekers in Ireland, Sport Against Racism in Ireland, and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. While nobody in ARC has any great faith in the impartiality of the judiciary, every case which goes into the court system has the effect of slowing down the deportation rollercoaster.
When the battle against the water charges in Dublin was at its height, it was recognised at an early stage that, by defending each individual case in court, we would slow down the process and make it impossible for the County Councils to take legal action against all non-payers. A similar tactic of forcing the Minister for Justice to justify each attempted deportation in court will also have the effect of clogging up the system and making it extremely difficult if not impossible for John O'Donoghue to fulfil his 'promise' to deport over 90% of asylum seekers.
There is no doubt that if the four asylum seekers arrested in the pre-Christmas period had been successfully deported, many more would have immediately followed. We must remember that at least 53 people were actually deported during 1998 and that the government's policy remains very firmly focused on deporting as many asylum seekers as possible. This is why it is important that the Anti-Racism Campaign continues to develop and build on the very strong base that it has already built.
The events in the run up to Christmas demonstrated quite clearly that ARC is the only campaign which takes the threat of deportations seriously, and which is able and willing to do something about it. It was ARC which organised all the protests around this issue, and it was ARC who - in co-operation with the refugee organisations - organised the legal representation and ensured that at least time was bought in each of these cases.
ARC's credibility and standing with the refugee organisations is very high as a result of this. It is important that ARC continues to grow, continues to involve as many people as possible in its ongoing work. A telephone tree has been established, to ensure that protests can be called at short notice. For these protests to continue to be successful, it is important that as many people as possible make themselves available. In order to have your name added to the telephone tree, please ring the ARC hotline number 088-2129770. Don't leave this to others, YOUR support and help is needed.
On Friday January 22nd, the High Court found that the government does not have the legal right to deport non-nationals from the country. A section of the 1935 Aliens Act was found to be unconstitutional. Within hours of the judgement, John O'Donoghue was promising new legislation to clear the way for more deportations.
When the government attempted to step up the number of deportations in the pre-Christmas period, it knew that this judgement was awaited, displaying a contempt for even its own procedures let alone the human rights of asylum seekers.
The government has now appealed this judgement to the Supreme Court and this is likely to be heard in late February. Meanwhile, legislation is ready to go if needed. While this judgement has had the effect of delaying the deportation rollercoaster, there is no doubt that it will resume as soon as possible.
Anti-racism campaigners must be prepared to resist when deportations resume. You can contact Immigrant Solidarity (Cork) at P.O. Box 178, Cork - 088-6911968; Mid-West Against Racism (Limerick/Clare) at Kings Island Community Centre, Verdant Place, Kings Island, Limerick; and the Anti-Racism Campaign c/o 10 Upper Camden Street, Dublin 2 - 088-2129770.