Deputy Joe Flaherty: When are we going to stop forcing good people who want to contribute positively to our society to leave our country?
A man, described as ‘an intrinsic part of the local community in Longford’ by Deputy Joe Flaherty, is to have the rejection of his appeal for leave to remain in this country reviewed by Department of Justice officials.
In the Dáil chamber late last night (Tuesday, November 3), Longford / Westmeath Fianna Fáil Deputy Flaherty spoke about the case of Malik Amir Iqbal, who the previous Friday (October 30), was one of several people across the country to be advised of the rejection of their appeals for leave to remain in the country.
Speaking under topical issues, Deputy Flaherty raised ‘leave to remain’ and urged Minister of State at the Department of Justice James Browne to intervene and defer the matter for consideration.
Minister Browne confirmed that Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has instructed her department officials to review the process of issuing rejection letters to international protection applicants while Level 5 restrictions remain in place.
Deputy Flaherty outlined that Mr Iqbal has lived in direct provision for almost five years and in Longford town for several of those years.
The Deputy continued, “During that time, he has endeared himself to the local community and excelled in the arts through the medium of dance.
“Through the local Backstage Theatre, the Cruthú Arts Festival and many other local groups, this man has made countless friends.
“An extensive appeal in support of this affable man's application for a right to remain with us represents easily the most comprehensive case I have seen submitted on behalf of anyone in support of a right to remain in the country.
“It includes letters of support from high-profile names such as that of the actor Stephen Rea but also, perhaps more importantly, letters from local people such as our county librarian, Mary Carleton-Reynolds, and our local priest, Fr James McKiernan.
“All of these letters show beyond any shred of doubt that this man has become an intrinsic part of the local community in Longford and of the national arts scene.
“Mr Iqbal is a popular dancer who has featured on the stage of the Abbey Theatre with his good friend, Vicky Khokhar, a fully trained and qualified emergency room nurse who, like Mr Iqbal, lived in direct provision for several years.
“It is ironic that the two men were part of a dance troupe on our national stage literally hours before Mr Khokhar voluntarily left the country under the threat of deportation.
“There are so many people who do not want Mr Iqbal to face a similar fate.
“When are we going to stop forcing good people who want to contribute positively to our society to leave our country?
“It does not seem right that Mr Iqbal has waited 19 months for a decision on his appeal to then be given only five days to leave the country at the height of a pandemic.
“Perhaps there is a legal requirement that explains why the notifications had to issue last Friday but I appeal to the Minister of State to intervene and to defer the matter for further consideration, certainly until such time as the extensive case in support of Mr Iqbal has been fully assessed.”
Minister Browne thanked Deputy Flaherty for raising this important matter.
He responded, “Our objective is to have decisions made on international protection applications and permission to remain considerations as soon as possible. This ensures that those who are found to be in need of our protection can receive it quickly and begin rebuilding their lives here with a sense of safety and security.
“For those found not to be in need of protection, we can offer them assistance to return to their home country. This objective of timely decision making is shared by the Expert Group led by Dr Catherine Day, whose report Minister O’Gorman and Minister McEntee published very recently.
“During the early stages of the pandemic, it was decided to issue positive recommendations from the International Protection Office only. This was to ensure that applicants with negative recommendations were not disadvantaged by the time limits set out in the legislation within which to make an appeal or to request a review of a refusal of permission to remain.
“As substantive processing and appeal hearings recommenced in more recent months, so too did the issuing of negative decisions.
“While the number of negative decisions has not increased, there has been a build-up in the issuing of such decisions, with a higher volume than normal issuing in recent weeks.
“The letter referred to by Deputy Flaherty is to inform the person of their negative international protection decision and informing them that they no longer have permission to remain in the State.
“They are required to confirm within 5 days if they will accept the option of voluntary return, for which my Department will provide assistance. If they do not confirm that they will leave voluntarily, a deportation order will be made against them.
“The 5 day timeline is set down in primary legislation so must be adhered to in official correspondence. However, I understand a pragmatic approach is taken and, to be clear, the person is not required to remove themselves from the State within 5 days – they are required to indicate an intent to do so.
“Obviously, the time taken for relevant voluntary return arrangements to be made will take into account all factors, including Covid restrictions and limitations to travel this has created.
“That said, I do accept that particular issues arise with Level 5 restrictions and that the letters may have inadvertently caused distress.
“Minister McEntee has asked her officials to review the process of issuing such letters for its duration. I might add that the Catherine Day Expert Group has recommended that the 5-day period for deciding whether to accept voluntary return should be extended to 30 days and children and students be allowed to finish the school year before departure.
“This, along with all other recommendations relevant to the work of the Department of Justice, will be actively considered by a Programme Board established for this purpose. Their work will feed into the development of the White Paper by the end of this year, in line with the Programme for Government commitment.”
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