Healthcare workers on Covid frontline facing deportation

Healthcare workers on Covid frontline facing deportation

Two asylum-seeking healthcare workers who worked in nursing homes during the first wave of Covid-19 have received a letter from the Department of Justice saying they have been refused permission to remain in the State. File picture

Two asylum-seeking healthcare workers who worked in nursing homes during the first wave of Covid-19 have received a letter from the Department of Justice saying they have been refused permission to remain in the State.

If these healthcare workers don't indicate within five days of receiving the letter that they will voluntarily leave, they will be served with a deportation order.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, one of the healthcare workers facing deportation said she is disappointed and scared.

She worked in a nursing home during the height of the pandemic and caught Covid.

"I had to stay at home for three weeks, I had a fever, but after those three weeks I had to go back to work because it's something I really like doing.

"They needed me, even though I might have gotten the virus again, I had to go back."

She was hoping to train to be a nurse, but now she has no permission to remain in Ireland.

"On TV, they were saying healthcare workers were heroes, but behind [closed doors], they were giving us deportation orders. I am scared they will just come and take me."

She found a new solicitor, who has written an email with her work references to the Department of Justice, and she is waiting for a reply.

She is hopeful they will stop the deportation order but, in the meantime, she had to return her work permit so she can't continue working in the nursing home.

"I am sure there are so many of us out there who can't speak out. They don't know what to do, they are scared. I have to say something. 

There is nowhere to run.. it's just so hard.

Bulelani Mfaco, spokesperson for the Movement for Asylum Seekers in Ireland (Masi), says it is "appalling" to see negative decisions coming through to healthcare workers.

Mr Mfaco says that these decisions can be challenged through a judicial review, but there is no legal aid for this at the moment. 

"Asylum seekers have very limited time to take a challenge through judicial review, they have 28 days.

"They have to find a lawyer who will take their case, usually a lawyer will take it on a no win no fee basis, but you may need to pay to have a review of your file."

He adds that because people's work permits are surrendered as soon as they receive a negative decision, raising money for this is difficult.

Mr Mfaco says other frontline workers living in direct provision, such as those who work in retail, meat processing plants, and security, have also been refused permission to remain.

Lucky Khambule, one of Masi's co-founder's, described the practice as "cruel".

"People are really concerned and scared about the timing of this whole thing. These healthcare workers have been part and parcel of healing the Irish public and putting their lives at risk in doing so, as well as having to manoeuvre the difficulties of living in direct provision.

"There are people out there who still depend on them to come into these care homes.

"The [Government] should be considerate of these people who have really demonstrated that they have something to give back to Ireland. They are not even given a thank you postcard. 

The message they get is 'leave, or we will help you leave'.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said: "Humanitarian factors, employment records and other elements are considered by the Minister as part of the permission to remain process. Each case is examined in detail on its individual merits, taking all factors into account."

The department said during the early stages of the pandemic, only positive recommendations from the International Protection Office were issued. However, the normal processing of applications has resumed.

"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."

If the person chooses to leave voluntarily, the department says it will assist the individual in leaving and will "take into account all factors, including Covid-19 restrictions and limitations to travel this has created".

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has also asked her officials to review the practice of issuing negative international protection decisions during level 5 restrictions.

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