By Reed McLaurin
Naas District Court’s decision to grant bail to Afghan asylum seeker Walli Ullah Safi means that he is free to enter direct provision and await a decision on his protection status.
The ruling by Judge Patrick Clyne’s on 6 August comes after many NGOs condemned his three-week detention in Cloverhill Prison after he was found on the side of the M7 motorway in Co Kildare last month, after spending three months in transit from Afghanistan.
The 21-year-old, who is thought to have been a stowaway on a lorry from France, was “very confused” and “didn’t even know where he was, ” according to his solicitor Conal Boyce.
Gardaí had difficulty communicating with Safi, who speaks no English and did not have any documents to prove his identity.
As the inability of a non-Irish national to establish identity is an offence under the 2004 Immigration Act, Safi was remanded in Cloverhill Prison.
Safi’s case went before Judge Desmond Zaidan in Naas District Court on 13 July before being adjourned to 23 July when, under the Probation Act, the judge acknowledged that the facts of Safi’s offence were proven but no conviction was recorded.
Boyce deemed this a “very humane” response to a crime for which the maximum penalty is 12 months in prison and a €3,000 fine.
Safi was then re-arrested for the same offence upon leaving the court and again remanded in Cloverhill, where he was taken hostage during a riot involving 60 prisoners that broke out on 29 July.
The young Afghan suffered a broken arm, a slashed face and a “severe beating” in the ordeal, and was briefly hospitalised before being returned to Cloverhill.
Representatives of the UNHCR met with Safi on 31 July and heard his formal declaration of intent to seek asylum in Ireland because of his fear for his life upon return to Afghanistan. The Office of the Refugee Application Commissioner became aware of this the same day, but Safi was not moved out of the prison before his hearing.
The public outcry over Safi’s detention intensified after the riot, with the Anti Racism Network (ARN) holding an emergency rally on 31 July outside of the Department of Justice in Dublin.
Dozens of NGOs attended the event and signed a letter calling for his immediate release. At the heart of their cry was the claim that Safi should have never entered prison but rather been treated as an asylum seeker and placed in direct provision.
The ARN voiced their concern for Safi’s treatment in both prison and the press as an example of a larger issue. “The coverage of Walli Ullah Safi’s plight in the Irish media and his treatment by the Irish authorities reflect this racist anti-migrant hysteria,” the group said in a statement.
Nasc, the Irish Immigration Support Centre, made a similar point in a 30 July statement, saying: “We have profound concerns about how people entering this country are potentially being prevented access to their right to international protection through the process of immigration related detention.”
This October, Nasc will release the results of a larger research project into immigration related detention in Ireland, which has previously been criticised by the UN Human Rights Council, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.