The loud knocking on the door came at about 11pm. The young Somali woman was in her pyjamas and lying on a mattress on the floor. She had spent many hours with her husband in hospital in Dublin earlier, so it had already been a long day.
Three male officers and one female officer with the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) said they had come to deport her. Her husband was distraught. He didn’t speak English and had come to Ireland through a UN family reunification programme. As his wife noted later, he had never experienced anything like this before.
Would Ireland deport a 23-year-old wheelchair-bound woman with polio, travelling on her own with just €60 in her pocket? The actions of the State on that early morning in November 2012 indicated it would.
Ireland has had a long association with the young woman’s homeland, Somalia, particularly since the visits by then minister for foreign affairs David Andrews and then president Mary Robinson during the 1992 famine. Irish Aid has regularly contributed to programmes there. In 2014, about €5 million was given for both “humanitarian and longer-term developing programming”.
Over the past two decades, the situation has improved little, with conflict and more food shortages. The EU, UN, US and Britain contribute funding to a 22,000-strong Africa Union force known as Amisom, which has been fighting alongside Somali government troops against the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab since 2007.
A recent Human Rights Watch report documented evidence of African Union troops in Somalia gang-raping women and girls as young as 12 and trading food aid for sex.
For Hawo – not her real name, as she still fears repercussions – Ireland was a safe haven and a place where she could find treatment for her physical disability. She had arrived alone, aged 17, in 2008 with wooden crutches. She was placed in direct provision accommodation in Balseskin Reception Centre in Dublin and then transferred to Lisbrook – now closed – in Galway.
While there, an occupational therapist referred her to Cappagh hospital in Dublin, where she had callipers fitted. She says she “complained a lot” about the difficulties with constant travel and eventually her request to be transferred to the direct provision centre in Mosney, Co Meath was granted.
Her deportation order came in 2012, by which time she was married to a Muslim and living in a one-bedroom flat in Dublin. She had been learning English and had made contact with the Irish Wheelchair Association. Her application for asylum had failed the year before, as she was told her fingerprints were on Tanzanian records – often the only option for many Somalis who have no functioning government and can only hope to travel with Tanzanian papers.
As the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) points out, Hawo’s Islamic marriage was not recognised by the State, and no formal marriage application had been made as the couple were waiting for the civil marriage. But the authorities knew about her relationship.
Hawo recalls that during her appeal she had a language analysis test, which was conducted by phone from Sweden.