More than 400 immigrants and other visitors were detained in Irish jails in one year because of questions over their legal status.
Now an international think-tank has warned the practice may be forbidden under European law.
The Swiss-based Global Detention Project (GDP) has highlighted the repeated criticisms made of the practice by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and by its UN equivalent.
The GDP says repeated research has shown that placing such people “in prisons with people suspected of and/or sentenced for having committed criminal offences can be extremely traumatic for immigration detainees”.
It notes that the Government said in 2015 it would build a dedicated immigration detention centre at Dublin Aiport but the facility has not yet materialised.
The practice of detaining people in prison because of doubts over their right to be in the country came in for intense criticism last year after a 24-year-old Brazilian woman was stopped at Dublin Airport, taken to prison, strip-searched, and detained overnight without legal representation after arriving to visit friends in Galway.
She was declared free to leave the next day, but the incident prompted complaints from the Brazilian embassy.
According to the Irish Prison Service, 335 people were detained in this way in 2015 and 408 in 2016. The GDP says it has concerns about the safeguards for such people, in particular, the lack of limits on the length of time they can be held.
Gardaí can detain any adult suspected of being unlawfully in the State for less than three months. Those who are asylum seekers can be detained under the orders of a district court judge for 21 days at a time, with no limit on the number of such committals. “[This] means asylum seekers can potentially be detained indefinitely,” the GDP says.
Unauthorised non-nationals who are not asylum seekers can be detained for up to eight weeks but the clock stops if they take any legal challenge, so the eight weeks can stretch much longer.
Of 780 people detained between 2011 and 2012, a majority of 465 were detained for three days or less but 67 were detained for between a fortnight and a month and 37 for up to 50 days and 30 for longer than 50 days.
The GDP criticises Ireland for failing to ratify a UN protocol which would allow the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture from monitoring places of detention. “Moreover, on the national level, Ireland has so far failed to implement a national preventative mechanism, as required [by the protocol].”
Ireland is also due to opt into the EU Reception Conditions Directive which aims to harmonise the way immigrants are received in all EU countries. The GDP says when that happens, Ireland will no longer be allowed to use prisons to detain people for immigration reasons.
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