The legal team of a man from an Arab country, who was detained while transiting through Dublin Airport in June, has called on the Government to apologise for mistakenly deporting him back to London.
The man from the Middle East, who has refugee status and lives in Britain, was passing through Dublin Airport en route to Cairo in June 2018 when he was detained by the Border Management Unit (BMU) of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS).
The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had a two-hour layover between his flight from London Luton Airport and his onward journey to Munich. He had arranged to travel from Germany to Cairo to visit his mother.
Before the trip the man contacted the Irish Embassy in London to confirm whether or not he needed an Irish visa to pass through Dublin Airport. He says he was told a visa was not necessary.
The man also consulted the INIS website which stated that passengers connecting to another flight would remain “airside of the border”. The page did not specify that passengers transferring between terminals would pass through border control.
While transiting from Dublin Airport’s Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 the man discovered he had to go through border control. He presented his UN travel document and tickets for further travel to a BMU immigration staff member along with proof of return flights to London later that month.
The officer questioned the man before accusing him of trying to return to his home country and then refused him leave to land, according to a statement from the man’s solicitors. He was detained for more than six and half hours, during which time his phone was examined, before being escorted on to a plane to Luton Airport.
A letter from UK-based law firm Fountain Solicitor sent to the Minister for Justice, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Irish Embassy in London in early July accused the officer of going “well beyond his lawful role” in his questioning and engaging in “a fishing exercise to obtain information” from the man who was “genuinely a transit passenger who did not need a visa of any description”.
Speaking to The Irish Times, the man described the experience as “totally horrible”. “This was probably the worst moment of my life. This man was totally disrespectful and took on the role of the investigator. I cannot travel anymore, I am paralysed after this.”
In its letter the law firm requested a written apology; a written statement that the decision to refuse leave to land was “made in error” and that any information taken from the man’s phone would be confidentially disposed of. They also requested a written statement on any information shared with third parties; compensation for the loss on flights and an additional £5,000 as compensation for the “unlawful decision, unlawful detention” and treatment the man received at Dublin Airport.
The Minister for Justice’s private secretary replied that officers had “discharged their duties in line with Irish legislation” and that the actions taken to remove the man, who was treated with “respect and dignity”, from Ireland were “lawful”.
The secretary’s letter disputes the firm’s claim that passengers transferring between terminals at Dublin Airport can remain airside, arguing that passengers must clear immigration and as a result proceed landside.
On August 2nd, the INIS web page, which the man consulted ahead of his trip in June, was updated and now states that passengers may “in some cases” need to pass through border control when transferring between terminals. When questioned by the law firm about this update, the departmental secretary said the information on the website “clearly sets out the circumstances under which a short stay visit visa is required”.
In subsequent correspondence between the Fountain Solicitors firm and the department from August to October 2018, the private secretary maintained that the BMU officers acted “lawfully”, writing on October 20th that “under these circumstances a written apology is not warranted”. Any inconvenience caused to the man is regrettable, he added.
Asked by The Irish Times to comment on the case, a spokesman for the Department of Justice refused to comment “for reasons of confidentiality” but noted that any person from a visa-required country “must have a short stay or long stay visa to pass through border control in Ireland, including in some cases where the person has to transfer between terminals for a connecting flight”. If a person does not hold this visa they will be refused leave to land, he said.