Somali asylum seeker Mohamed Sleyum Ali died within hours of his arrival in Tanzania
Mohamed Sleyum Ali after an alleged attack when he arrived in Tanzania
Although he was not driving, the 27- year-old with Tanzanian papers was still asked for proof of his identity. He tendered his provisional driving licence.
A call was put through to the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), which confirmed that he was on a deportation order and had been for some time.
He was taken to a Garda station and then to Cloverhill prison. It was early March, 2014. He managed to make contact with a good friend, Suleiman, with whom he had spent a lot of time in Dublin over the previous year.
Suleiman, a Somali-born engineering student in his early twenties who prefers not to give his full name for this interview, visited Mohamed several times in Cloverhill. His friend was now known as Prisoner 90737.
He was, Suleiman remembers, “the only African in that division of the prison” during the three weeks of his detention. One of their last conversations was by phone on April 4th, 2014, when Mohamed had been deported to Tanzania, and was at an airport near Mount Kilimanjaro awaiting a flight to Dar Es Salaam.
It was a hasty call, lasting no more than a minute. Mohamed told Suleiman the authorities “wouldn’t accept him”.
He sounded “very stressed”, his friend says. Within a week, Mohamed would be dead.
No functioning government “He was born in Somalia, like myself, and for us, it’s very difficult to travel,”Suleiman explains. “When you have no functioning government, you don’t have papers and so you have to try and get a Tanzanian passport.”
The two young men met first in Sligo when Suleiman was visiting friends. Mohamed had travelled initially to Britain, and then to Ireland in 2007. Like Suleiman, he had no immediate family, making his way here alone – like many who, either for economic or political reasons such as a failed asylum application, believed Ireland to be a more welcoming option.
“We kept in touch,”Suleiman says. “I knew him the way I know myself.”
Mohamed, who had a girlfriend in Sligo, was passionate about sport , but Suleiman was the more active soccer player. Suleiman remembers he “dreamed of becoming an engineer”.
Latterly, Mohamed was transferred from Sligo to direct provision centre in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo.
“He would joke in Swahili, and was a great guy for Play Station 2,”a Tanzanian friend from the Ballyhaunis centre told The Irish Times. “ He was so good that he played it as if he was one of its inventors”.
“He was very interested in soccer, knew all of the British football clubs, and could talk as if he was one of the managers. He was really informed about the English premier league,” the friend, who is still awaiting the outcome of his own asylum application, said.
All that changed when Mohamed’s asylum application failed, and he was issued with a deportation order. It stipulated that he was required to report regularly to the GNIB, pending his flight home.
“He decided not to do that,”Suleiman says. “So that’s when he came to live with me in Dublin.”
He was in Cloverhill
“Mohamed was with one of my other friends when they were stopped in the car,” Suleiman recalls. “He was able to phone me. He told me he was in Cloverhill.
“ He seemed normal when I visited, but didn’t accept being taken to prison. He asked me to send documents to a solicitor, which I did.”
Mohamed seemed confident that if the full evidence, including a birth cert stating his Somali birthplace, was presented, he would be released and allowed to continue with his asylum efforts. His confidence was short-lived.
At about 4am on Wednesday, April 2nd, Suleiman got a phone call.
It was Mohamed: he told his friend he was being taken to Dublin airport. He also called the solicitor with whom he had brief dealings after his arrest. The arrest warrant appeared to be in order, and at this stage there was little or nothing to be done.
Solicitor Donal Quigley confirmed that Mohamed had made contact with him, initially in prison. “He had been given my name by other prisoners who recommended me as someone experienced in challenging warrants,”Mr Quigley recalled.
“I had very little information to go on, however, apart from his birth cert, which gave local place of birth as Somalia but wasn’t an official document as there is no functioning government,” he said. “I tried to track down another solicitor he had been dealing with in Clondalkin, but was unsuccessful.”
“I never saw the deportation order, but did examine the warrant and there appeared to be no grounds for him to stay.”
Mohamed sounded very downcast when he phoned Suleiman again. The officers with him “said that they could not do anything” and that “they were just following directions”.
He was in Tanzania
Suleiman waited up to midnight for another call, but did not speak to Mohamed again till the following day, April 3rd, when his friend told him that he was in Tanzania at the international airport near Mount Kilimanjaro. He was very tired, and was awaiting another flight to the Tanzanian capital, Dar Es Salaam.
There had been an attempt to leave Mohamed in Kilimanjaro, but the authorities would not admit him through passport control. Mohamed had queried why this had not been cleared by the Irish immigration officers travelling with him beforehand.
However, the officers with him “didn’t want to know”, he told Suleiman.
It was only a few hours later that day – between 4.30pm and 5pm (April 3rd, 2014) – that Suleiman received yet another call on Mohamed’s number. He didn’t recognise the voice though. A man asked if he was a friend or a relative, and explained that he was calling the last number used on Mohamed’s phone.
Mohamed had been badly beaten, and so he was trying to reach some relatives on his behalf. Several hours later, the same man called again and told Suleiman that they had taken Mohamed to hospital.
Mohamed had sustained internal injuries, and had marks of restraint, and of “beatings” all over his body. This was subsequently borne out by photographs emailed to Suleiman. He was told that his friend was being fed “porridge”, but couldn’t eat properly, and was paralysed.
The contact asked Suleiman if there was any chance of getting some money to help pay for the medical treatment. Sensing that Suleiman was unsure about this request, he arranged a brief conversation with Mohamed in the hospital.
“He was very weak and unable to talk much and someone was holding the phone for him, but he told me to trust the caller and said that he needed help,” Suleiman says. It was their last conversation.
Suleiman made some calls to friends, explaining that money was urgently required, and managed to collect about €500.
But Mohamed’s situation deteriorated and on April 10th, he died – a week after his deportation from Ireland.
“The day I sent the money – by Western Union – was the day I heard that he had died. And so it was used to pay for his funeral,” Suleiman says.
Statement to the Irish Refugee Council
Still in shock, Suleiman gave a statement to the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) which raised the case with the Department of Justice. The IRC examined photographs of Mohamed, taken when he was in hospital, and were concerned about the restraint marks on his limbs.
A Tanzanian based in Ireland travelled back for the funeral in Dar Es Salaam, and also took photographs which were furnished to the IRC.
Anti-Deportation Ireland (ADI), a separate non-governmental organisation based in Cork, issued a call for all deportations to cease before “another violent and brutal death occurs”.
ADI said it believed that Mohamed had been taken to a local police station after he was handed over to Tanzanian authorities and had been “beaten and tortured” for several days before being thrown out onto the street.
ADI spokesman Joe Moore said that the Irish State had “failed Mohamed Ali Sleyum in its duty of care under international law”.
IRC chief executive officer Sue Conlan says she is very concerned about whether Mohamed was ever given adequate travel documents, and has sent Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald a series of questions.
Ms Conlan has asked why, if Mohamed was being deported as an “assumed Tanzanian national”, he was flown to Kilimanjaro International Airport rather than directly to Dar Es Salaam.
She has asked Ms Fitzgerald what documents he was given, or what GNIB officers had with them, to facilitate his entry into Tanzania; and she has asked whether GNIB officers accompanied him into the terminal at Kilimanjaro airport.
Ms Conlan has also asked the Minister if any “issues” were raised by Tanzanian officials with the GNIB officers which indicated why they were not prepared to accept Mohamed as a Tanzanian national.
In a response, Ms Fitzgerald has said that the Irish embassy in Tanzania had contacted the authorities, and the Tanzanian foreign affairs ministry was currently making inquiries.
However, “the standard procedures involved in the removal of a non- national by the GNIB were followed in this case, as they are in all cases,”she has said.
Contacted by The Irish Times, the Department of Justice said that it “does not comment on individual cases”.
The non-governmental organisations are not happy with Ms Fitzgerald’s contention that “standard procedures” were applied.
They await responses from her to unanswered questions. Mohamed Sleyum Ali’s fate – the first reported death after an Irish deportation – has had a “chilling” effect on compatriots, and the wider asylum- seeking community, they point out.
For the more than 1,600 people who have spent more than five years in the system, deportation is a looming reality
Deportation, the enforced removal of failed asylum seekers, is a “last resort”, according to the Department of Justice. It says that more than 22,500 orders have been made since 1999, but just over 4,700 have been enforced.
There are some 4,360 asylum seekers in direct provision accommodation facilities around the country. For the more than 1,600 people who have spent more than five years in the system – and may have exhausted all means of leave to remain – deportation is a looming reality.
The Irish Refugee Council (IRC), which does not dispute the State’s right to return home unsuccessful applicants, believes the deport- ation system as administered here is “inhumane”.
“It is never pleasant, especially if it is a family which has been here for some time and has kids in school,” says one direct provision centre manager, who spoke to The Irish Times on the basis of confidentiality.
“People can get woken up in the middle of the night, told they are leaving, kids are crying, and everyone in the hostel is affected for days,” he said.
Deportations are effected by the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), which does not discuss individual cases, working with the European border control agency, known as Frontex, to whose budget Ireland contributes €250,000 annually.
The law states that a person shall not be expelled from the State or “returned in any manner whatsoever to a state where the life or freedom of that person would be threatened on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.
The department says that there has been voluntary assisted programme since 2001 to return asylum seekers and “irregular migrants” in a “dignified and humane manner” and that some 4,000 have returned under this scheme.
However, IRC chief executive Sue Conlan says that the department’s reference to voluntary return is misleading, as a deportation order comes straight after an asylum seeker’s application to stay in reland has been refused.
“So they either make their own way home – on the meagre money of €19.10 a week from direct provision – or wait for the State to deport them at some unknown date and time,” Ms Conlan says.
She says some deportees have no travel documents and that this may have been the case with Mohamed Sleyum Ali.