Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Deportation Moratorium (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Second Stage
I thank the Minister for being in the Chamber this afternoon. I support the Deportation Moratorium (Covid-19) Bill 2020. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this important emergency legislation in the midst of a global pandemic. Our call is simple. We seek to amend our immigration and asylum laws so that, as long as the Government restricts travel and movement into, within and out of the State to combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus, there will be consistency in how the State treats vulnerable migrants and refugees in need of our protection. Such individuals should not be forced to leave the island and must be granted safe refuge in and until the pandemic abates.
It is the second time in a week that important issues relating to migration and legal statuses have been debated in this House, which is no coincidence. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to reflect on what it means to be safe and secure in one's own home and in one's own community as we are forced to rely on the physical structures around us, like the bricks and mortar of our own houses, and the social networks of our communities for protection, security and support. The pandemic has starkly lit up our own vulnerabilities and it has been sometimes scary to witness the intense fragility of the support systems around us. We must, therefore, always be conscious that the experience of this pandemic of those without such protections has been made impossibly harder.
However, in many areas, our communities and our policymakers have moved quickly to react to the pandemic's effects. We have introduced an emergency ban on evictions, an emergency social welfare payment, an emergency wage support system for small businesses and emergency restrictions on travel, socialising and public gatherings. In each area, we have identified the vulnerable person in need of support from the State and acted. This legislation must be seen in that same vein and as the latest in the suite of measures needed to protect the marginalised peoples who have borne the brunt of the impact of the virus, which includes refugees and migrants more than most.
The most fundamental principle of our migration and asylum systems must be that, where people cannot safely return to their homes due to threats to their safety, they will be granted refuge in Ireland while the threat still exists. With everything that we know about the role of international travel in the spread of the virus and the deteriorating situation in many other countries, how can we possibly justify forcing migrants to leave a current place of refuge to go to a place of uncertainty when their own health and, indeed, the health of others may be at risk from such travel? The safest and fairest course of action is to halt all deportations from Ireland until there is a stabilisation of the global public health situation, which looks more and more likely in light of the speed at which vaccines are being developed and distributed.
We are not alone in making this call. In May of this year, the United Nations Network on Migration said that states must "suspend forced returns during the pandemic, in order to protect the health of migrants and communities, and uphold the human rights of all migrants, regardless of status". It went on to say, "Forced returns can intensify serious public health risks for everyone - migrants, public officials, health workers, social workers and both host and origin communities."
In November, the Taoiseach stated in the Dáil, in response to an account of two Zimbabwean healthcare workers being issued with deportation orders, that he did "not believe that people should be deported in the context of Covid-19 to red zone areas or where the virus is in a much worse situation than is now the case here." In light of Ireland's strong performance in international terms on the reduction of case numbers, such a policy would essentially preclude the making of any deportation order whatsoever.
I am disappointed that the Government is opposing a second reading of the Bill. I note that, in its countermotion, the Government states that only four deportations have been carried out since March while neglecting to mention the 469 orders that have been issued by the Department in that time. The motion also mentions the welcome decision of the Minister for Justice not to issue orders while level 5 restrictions are in place. Our ask is that such a policy be extended to all five levels for the duration of the pandemic. I ask the Minister to commit to such a policy on the record today. Every deportation order issued has the power to change an individual's life. It can challenge the foundations of his or her world and tear his or her community here apart.
Over the summer, I became much more acutely aware of the situation of migrants while working on a helpline during the first lockdown. As I triaged many members of our homeless and migrant communities before they were assessed to see if they needed to be tested for Covid, I became very aware that it was primarily people of migrant background who were testing positive for Covid-19 both in the homeless sector and in the community.
Somebody who rang had found one woman, who will remain anonymous but to whom I will be writing in the coming weeks, on the side of a road. She had been here two years and had been kept as a domestic slave. She did not even know where to go when she was thrown out of the house for contracting Covid-19, which must have been brought into the house by another as she did not have the luxury of ever leaving. Rather than being deported and not being able to go through the necessary process to seek asylum, her problem is that, although she has been granted leave to remain for the moment, she may now be put into a direct provision centre despite having been here two years and living under threat. Even in our domestic decisions, as opposed to our global decisions, we are putting someone who has been held as a slave in a home in Ireland into a direct provision, where she will be at further risk.
The Government amendment does not really tell us what positive actions the Department will be taking. As such, it is important that the Minister, in her response, tells us that these 469 people will be communicated with and will not be deported during the pandemic. That must be made clear to them so that when they have to check in or present themselves, they do not have to do so in fear or with the consistent threat of deportation.This should not have to happen with the fear or consistent threat of deportation and they should be safe for the duration of the pandemic.
I would also like to hear the Minister's comments on the recommendations from the Day report relating to regularisation, which seem to be positive, although I have not read the report fully. We are doing considerably better than other countries, which indicates a person deported to any other country, no matter where that is, would be worse off than if that person stayed here. Given our numbers and how we have dealt with the Covid-19 crisis, we know we are the safest refuge for people until we see improvements around the world.
My colleague, Senator Higgins, has indicated that we have seen threats of violence in other countries, including political persecution, but right now somebody returning to a home country, possibly to no home and without money because of an inability to earn money here, would leave that person further under threat when it comes to health services. We need to acknowledge a threat to health as a threat to life if people leave this country. As Senator Higgins also mentioned, I would also like to hear a comment on the change of the five-day period to 30 days. Senator Higgins spoke about what it would take for somebody to make that decision in Ireland but could we imagine how a person would think if he or she had nothing or nobody in the country to which he or she was being deported? A person's decisions must also be based on whether people can put structures in place in the country they are returning to. These people should be able to reach out to the country to where they are being deported if they go along with the deportation. Five days is an incredibly short period for a person to process that level of information.