Two weeks ago, the 21-year-old Afghan man was found on the side of the M7 motorway near Naas, Co Kildare. Ullah had fled Afghanistan in fear of his life. He arrived in Ireland after travelling for at least three months stowed away in a lorry.
When he was discovered, he was arrested because non-EU nationals in the State must be able to produce a passport or a recognised proof of identification. This very odd ‘crime’ — reminiscent of fascist regimes — carries with it a fine of €3,000 or 12 months in prison.
The district judge hearing the case acted sensibly and humanely and gave Ullah the benefit of the Probation Act. He was then released but immediately rearrested for the same offence and sent to Cloverhill.
At the time of his incarceration, his solicitor, Conal Boyce, spoke on RTÉ radio about the ‘humane’ regime at Cloverhill. That may well be so as far as the prison authorities are concerned, but Ullah was subject to the most terrible ordeal at the hands of other inmates and must have felt as if he had escaped one hell only to enter another.
Ullah was taken hostage by a group of prisoners who subjected him to a severe beating, during which his arm was broken and his face slashed with a blade.
There is nothing humane about that.
After a few hours of hospital treatment overnight, Ullah was sent back to Coverhill yesterday.
There’s nothing humane about that, either.
In a statement yesterday, Anti Racist Network Ireland said that he should never have been placed in prison in the first place.
“He is guilty of no crime, and our so-called humanitarian protection system has completely failed him,” a spokesperson said.
It is hard to argue with that, considering the protection system they refer to is Direct Provision, the regime that all asylum seekers are subject to.
Under the system which has been in place since 1996, asylum seekers in Ireland are denied the right to work and must live on a weekly allowance of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child.
It has been condemned by Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly and former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness, as well as refugee support groups, who say it breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.
Thousands of asylum seekers, many of them children, have languished in these direct provision reception centres for as long as 10 years. There is nothing humane about that.
The system is an assault on human dignity, the rule of law, and common sense. Perhaps, finally, some good may come out of this and Ullah’s ordeal will highlight the cruelty of two systems, one that criminalises the undocumented and the other that keeps asylum seekers in limbo for years.