New HRC research on immigration-related detention in Ireland

End to immigrant detention in prisons is urged

Carol Coulter

Irish Times, 1 November 2005

Almost 3,000 people were held in prison for immigration-related reasons in 2003 and 2004, according to a report to be published today. Nearly 10,000 people were refused entry into Ireland in those two years.

The report calls for an end to the practice of holding such detainees incommunicado before refusing them entry, usually without anyone knowing they had arrived in Ireland.

The number held in prison for immigration-related reasons fell from almost 2,000 in 2003 to just under 1,000 in 2004, reflecting the fall in people seeking asylum. However, the average length of time they spent in custody increased dramatically, with two-thirds spending more than 51 days.

The report, Immigration-related detention in Ireland, was commissioned by the Irish Refugee Council, the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Immigrant Council of Ireland. It was written by international human rights lawyer Mark Kelly.

The report says that prisons, where the vast majority of immigration detainees are held, are inappropriate places for such people, who are not accused of any crime.

It recommends an end to the practice of holding immigration detainees in prison, saying they should be accommodated instead in centres designed for the purpose.

The report says the rights accorded to certain categories of people held for immigration-related reasons fall short of international human rights standards. These rights include the right to inform a third party of one's detention; to have access to a lawyer and a doctor; the right to appeal against the legality of the detention; and the right to information about rights in a language understood by the detainee.

While these rights exist for detained asylum seekers and for those held on remand for immigration-related offences, they do not exist for those refused permission to land and who are held pending their return, or for those held pending deportation, who only have the formal right to appeal the legality of their detention.

As they do not have the right to information about their rights in a language they understand, or access to legal advice, the report questions the practical usefulness of the formal right to appeal.

It quotes the head of the Garda National Immigration Bureau, Det Chief Supt Derek Byrne, as saying that those refused permission to land may be allowed to make phone calls if this is "absolutely necessary", but that they have no right to inform anyone about their detention.

Chief Supt Byrne also said those refused permission to land had not entered the territory of Ireland and therefore were not entitled to rights available to people on Irish territory.

However, the report points out that this argument was rejected by the European Court of Human Rights nine years ago in a case involving France, where it found that people in an international zone at an airport were present on the territory of the state in question and fully entitled to the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights. This convention has since been incorporated into Irish law.

The report recommends amending the legal framework for immigration detention in Ireland to ensure that all detainees enjoy their human rights as enshrined in international law and human rights covenants. Amendments to the forthcoming Immigration and Residence Bill could achieve this, it states.

While the rights of detained asylum seekers are more fully protected, the report recommends improvements in their access to legal and medical assistance.

The author of the report interviewed a number of people held for immigration reasons in Cloverhill (for men) and the Dóchas Centre (for women), where the majority of immigration detainees are held.

While the physical conditions were of a high standard, he found that detainees lived in over-crowded conditions in both prisons, and lacked sufficient opportunity for association, visits and stimulation.

© The Irish Times

The Executive Summary of the report is set out below, and the full 71-page report can be downloaded (in PDF format) by clicking here.


Mark Kelly, Human Rights Consultants



Until recently, it was comparatively rare for people to be detained for immigration-related reasons in Ireland. However, over the last few years, a range of statutory detention powers has been introduced to authorise the detention - in Garda Síochána stations and prisons - of:

• people refused permission to land

• applicants for asylum and

• people due to be deported.

In addition, people may be held in prison on remand (i.e. awaiting trial) for immigration-related reasons.   Official figures published for the first time in this report show that, in 2003-2004, a total of 2,798 people were held in prison for immigration-related reasons. In 2004, some two thirds of those detained were held in prison for periods of longer than 51 days. 

The legal framework for immigration detention in Ireland  

The report provides a detailed description of the legal framework that applies to immigration-related detainees, outlines the legal authority on which people can be detained, lists the authorised places of detention in which they can be held, and identifies possibilities for them to appeal against their detention and/or request that its legality be reviewed. This is the first time that an up-to-date synthesis of the law in this area has been published.   The report also examines the formal legal safeguards that are offered to persons detained for immigration-related reasons and benchmarks these against international human rights standards.  

As matters stand, Irish law and practice do not adequately protect the rights of people refused permission to land and people detained pending deportation. Such persons are not being informed in writing, in a language that they understand, of their right to challenge the legality of their detention and/or the validity of a decision to remove them from the State. Moreover, the law does not formally recognise their rights to inform a person of their choice of their situation, to have access to a lawyer and to have access to medical care. Nor are such people being systematically provided with written information in a language that they understand in order to explain the legal procedures that apply to them and to outline their rights.

The rights of detained asylum seekers are more fully protected in Irish law; however, the report identifies a number of areas where improvements are required, including as regards the precise nature and content of their rights to inform a person of their choice of their situation and to have access to a lawyer as from the very outset of their detention.

The report contains recommendations designed to bring Irish law and practice in these areas into conformity with international human rights standards.

Life in prison for immigration-related detainees

Over 90% of the persons detained for immigration-related reasons in Ireland are held in one of two prisons in Dublin: Cloverhill Prison (which holds male detainees) and the Dóchas Centre at Mountjoy Prison (which accommodates female detainees). Private interviews were carried out with male and female third country nationals held for immigration-related reasons in both of these establishments.

On the basis of those interviews, and of an independent examination of the living conditions at Cloverhill and the Dóchas Centre, the report provides a description of life in prison for immigration-related detainees. It concludes that neither Cloverhill Prison nor the Dóchas Centre provide an appropriate environment in which to hold immigration detainees.

Cloverhill Prison accommodates immigration detainees in overcrowded conditions - three to an 11m² cell - together with people suspected of criminal offences. They are locked in their cells for more than seventeen hours a day and significant restrictions - including closed visiting arrangements - are placed on their contacts with the outside world.

Although conditions at the Dóchas Centre are better in certain respects (e.g. open visits and more time unlocked), immigration detainees held there appear to be bearing the brunt of the establishment's overcrowding problems. Indeed, two of them were found to be sleeping on mattresses placed directly on the floor of an 8m² office. Moreover, immigration detainees at the Dóchas Centre are held together with people on remand and convicted prisoners.

The report recommends that, for so long as immigration detainees continue to be held at Cloverhill and the Dóchas Centre, they should be kept in more spacious living conditions. It also recommends a number of other specific measures designed to improve the quality of their daily lives. These include providing all newly-admitted detainees with an information booklet including details about life in the establishment, and about the legal rights and entitlements of immigration detainees. That booklet should be made available in the languages most commonly spoken by those detained for immigration-related reasons.

The holding of immigration detainees in Irish prisons has been repeatedly criticised by authorities including the Council of Europe, the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention, the Visiting Committees of the establishments concerned and the National Prison Chaplains.

The findings of this independent research report serve to confirm that prisons are, by definition, inappropriate places in which to hold immigration detainees. It recommends that the practice of holding immigration detainees in prisons in Ireland be brought to an end.

In those cases where it is deemed necessary to deprive persons of their liberty for an extended period under immigration legislation, the report stresses that they should be accommodated in centres specifically designed for that purpose, offering material conditions and a regime appropriate to their legal situation and staffed by suitably qualified personnel.

Future prospects

Finally, the report looks to the future; it recommends that the legislative changes necessary to bring Irish law on immigration-related detention into conformity with international human rights standards be incorporated into the Government's forthcoming Immigration and Residence Bill.

1 November, 2005

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