Immigration Bill ‘may violate international law’

CIVIL liberties groups have warned that the Government’s proposed Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill may violate international law if asylum-seekers are summarily refused entry to the country.

Sources within the Justice Department confirmed the new bill will give authorities the right to bypass existing procedures and summarily detain and deport people entering the country illegally. The bill will also force all non-EU nationals to carry ID cards, restrict welfare payments, forbid illegal immigrants from getting married in Ireland and place a legal obligation on all foreigners without residency permits to leave the State.

However, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) warned the Government that, under international law, asylum- seekers’ rights are protected.

“Any suggestion that non-EU citizens might be summarily deported could run counter to fair procedure guarantees and Ireland’s legal obligation under international human rights law,” said ICCL director Mark Kelly.

IRC spokeswoman Louise Moor described the proposals as “discriminatory” and called on the Government to enact separate legislation to deal with refugees and asylum seekers.

“Clearly this law is aimed only at one section of society and one of our main concerns is that it will help create unhelpful ideas in society at large because one group is being singled out for attention,” she said.

Ms Moor welcomed the establishment of a more transparent tribunal to deal with asylum applications.

The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Inter-culturalism said the legislation ‘could help to develop a mindset of ‘them and us’ and lead to civil liberties being eroded.

Labour Party justice spokesman Brendan Howlin said the issues which the bill seeks to address need to be debated in full, not through a “leak to a media source”.

“There is some merit in the ID cards, but I would have huge concerns about one section of society being picked out on the basis of ethnicity to produce ID cards,” said Mr Howlin.

“We have to be extremely careful in relation to that.

“Michael McDowell has had a torrid few weeks and failed to deal with a lot of issues, so perhaps he is presenting this bill as a political counterweight.”

Concerns over rising immigration levels have heightened in recent months but official statistics show 4,320 people sought asylum in Ireland in 2005, a fraction of the total number of non-nationals who entered the country last year.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said Mr McDowell will present his proposal to Cabinet shortly.

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