Rough Treatment at Shannon Airport

The Observer 16-05-1993

Receiving a rough reception at Shannon Airport in Ireland...

By Christopher Long

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Twenty-seven Turkish Kurds who arrived at Shannon Airport, Ireland, seeking asylum, were allegedly beaten up by police officers and refused any opportunity to apply for asylum.

In what one civil rights worker described as 'one of the most disgraceful incidents of its kind in Ireland' the injured, who included a few women travelling with children, say they were even refused medical treatment.

The Dublin government has been unwilling to discuss details of the incident and a spokeswoman for the Irish Department of Justice, merely told the Observer that "The persons referred to did not seek refugee status or asylum at Shannon on 16 November last and boarded their flight voluntarily."

According to Amnesty International in London and Dublin, the refugees were on an Aeroflot flight from Cuba to Moscow on 16 November last year when they were refused the right to apply for refugee status during an international stop-over at Shannon Airport.

Observers, including local press reporters, say that a force of between fifty and seventy police was immediately called on during the seven hour incident to take over from immigration officers. Civil rights workers and relatives of the refugees (some of whom had travelled from London to meet relatives off the flight) say they were prevented from meeting or speaking to them.

The refugees have told civil rights workers in Canada that the Irish authorities stated that there is no provision for accepting political refugees in Ireland. In addition they claim that they were manhandled and physically forced, against their will, aboard the Moscow-bound Aeroflot plane which had brought them to Ireland. However, when the Russian pilot refused to carry the angry and protesting refugees they were taken off and put aboard the next Aeroflot flight into Shannon which happened to be heading for Gander airport in Newfoundland, Canada where they were granted entry.

Amnesty International says that no medical treatment was offered but ice packs were applied to bruises.

It is not yet known how the Kurds first reached Cuba but it seems clear that there was a prearranged plan to apply for asylum during the Irish stop-over.

One relative from London, Huseyin Yildiz, was able to spend half an hour with his wife, Saziye, at Shannon Airport but Amnesty International say observers reported seeing her being dragged, protesting, across the airport floor when she was made to re-join others on the onward flight.

However, the Kurdish Advice Centre in London is said to have received reports of just two of the group being assaulted by Irish police – an allegation the police deny.

"This was a really terrible incident," says Tom Kierans, Amnesty's refugee coordinator in Dublin. "These Kurds arrived at Shannon and feared being put on a plane to Moscow. Russia is not a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees so they would have been at risk of being returned to Turkey."

"Although the Department of Justice states that the Kurds did not wish to apply for asylum in Ireland, Amnesty International is concerned that Irish officials allegedly attempted to force the Kurds onto a Moscow destined flight despite their evident fear."

"The allegations of abuse remain to be fully investigated but this was undignified for the victims and for the Irish people. I wouldn't say this is exactly typical of Ireland but then there's a very fluid attitude here to political refugees. Ireland has only about 50 applicants per year and only about 30 so far this year."

The incident is not unique, Mr Kierans claims:

"We had six Sri Lankans claiming political asylum in 1990 and they were immediately sent back and the matter was hushed up."

Two weeks ago the Irish government, which has not commented on the Shannon Airport incident but has offered sanctuary to 200 Bosnian refugees, said its immigration policy was intended to achieve the 'highest international standards'.

Paradoxically the first attempt at an integrated European Community system of dealing with political refugees was the Dublin Convention held in the Irish capital in June 1990.

One important effect of the convention was establishing the principle that refugees would not be shuttled from one country to another but would be properly processed by the EC country at which they first arrived.

The Canadian section of Amnesty International is currently interviewing the Kurds to establish whether any did in fact apply for asylum in Ireland and a British civil rights group also plans to interview them in Canada.

This item appeared in the Irish edition of The Observer.

© (1993) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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