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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 11 Dec 1980

Vol. 325 No. 6

Adjournment Debate. - Political Asylum Application.

Deputy Keating has been given permission by the Ceann Comhairle to raise on the adjournment the question of the application for political asylum of a person.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me permission to raise this issue. I do so because it is an urgent and a humanitarian matter relating to a student, a Mr. Rassouli, who is an applicant for political asylum here. I met this man on two occasions and I was impressed with his presentation of his case. Although I do not profess to have at my fingertips the data and facts, which are perhaps available to the Minister, I see here the need for the most sympathetic decision possible in relation to his application.

I raise the matter in this form because of the urgency of it. This young man is a student. I have had some words with his lecturer, who will endorse my request for sympathetic consideration. He has been living in Ireland for about three years. During that time he has been a good student and a good worker while he was working. Unfortunately, the turmoil in his home country and the former relatively high ranking civil service position which his father had prior to the recent regime means that there is a degree of odium attaching to his family at present in Iran. This means he is extremely concerned about his welfare if he is deported or asked to return to his home country. This is added to because the current Iran-Iraq war has meant the devastation of his home city, Abadan. The last word this man has heard from his parents is a telegram about three weeks ago from a point hundreds of miles from his home indicating that the family are refugees.

This young man has made friends and has settled into the local environment very well. His knowledge of the English language, his acceptance in the College of Technology and his acceptance by his fellow students, so far as I am able to judge in these matters, indicate that he would integrate very rapidly into the local community. The urgency is added to by the fact that he did not conform to the necessary regulations in relation to his passport or work permit. I asked him about this and he told me that the reason for this was that he was afraid to enter into discussions with the relevant embassy based in London, because he felt that, arising from such discussions or involvement with the embassy, the question of deportation could be raised or he might be refused a reissue of his passport and might have to go home.

This young man is about 20 years of age and is alone in this country as far as relations are concerned. It was hard enough not to feel sympathy with his cause in the manner in which he presented his case. I accept that the Minister, in assessing the request for political asylum, must refer to issues other than sympathy and humanitarian concern. I believe there is, from what I have been told, a reasonable possibility that if this young man is sent back to his home country he will be incarcerated or worse. I do not believe anybody in this House would wish to be associated with locking the door of welcome in this country, which could result in that situation. In all the circumstances, I ask the Minister to sympathetically assess this application.

There is, as the Minister knows, a dimension to this that I am not entitled to go into in the House. I can only say that the need for a decision is urgent otherwise there will be, at the very least, a gaol sentence involved here for the omissions that I referred to earlier, which could be avoided if the decision is in the affirmative. I understand that his father was dismissed from the post he held and that the family's property has been confiscated. There is reasonable evidence because of this and the young man's virtual exile from the city of his birth that his family are persona non grata in his own country.

He is not merely somebody who has come here in the last few weeks or months. When I discussed this matter with him last night on the telephone I suggested he should do everything possible to assure the respective Government Departments that he is willing to comply to the letter with every aspect of the immigration requirements. He has already endeavoured to put his passport situation in order. This would facilitate a work permit. Mr. Rassouli is virtually penniless as he has not been able to work. I believe that if he were granted political asylum a job would be available for him. His studies would continue and from the information I have I believe he would be successful. I believe that in the circumstances an act of humanitarian generosity would have been accomplished.

Many Irish people have had to leave their country over the centuries and were welcomed by other countries. Many of them became immersed in the politics, the social life and the commercial life of those countries. I believe we have a responsibility to our fellow man, regardless of from what part of the world he or she comes, to treat those people likewise. There is a strong likelihood if he is not given political asylum of a most unpleasant fate awaiting this boy. I do not believe any of us would wish that. I ask the Minister to be good enough to give this matter top priority and to accept my plea that Mr. Rassouli is granted political asylum and is naturalised. I have no doubt he would become a most useful and happy member of the community.

The relevant facts are as follows. The boy, as Deputy Keating refers to him, is a man of 29 years. He came to this country from Britain in 1977 after he was refused permission to stay there. He was admitted here for a stay of six months on the basis that he was accepted for a course of study at a college. He subsequently obtained an extension. The information available suggests that he did not make much progress at his studies. His Iranian passport expired at the end of 1978. He was told at that stage by my Department that he would have to have his passport renewed and that he should produce evidence that he could support himself here. He has not done either. He has been prosecuted by the Garda for working here without a permit from the Minister for Labour and for staying here without permission. He was convicted on both charges in the District Court and sentenced to imprisonment. He has appealed and the appeal is at hearing. He called to my Department on 4 December and said that he was seeking political asylum and that application is being considered. In fairness, since the matter in the way it has been raised here would suggest that I or my Department are acting unreasonably——

That is not suggested or implied, I assure the Minister.

I thank the Deputy because I would not like that to be inferred.

I never suggested that and I accept completely that that is not the case.

The facts as known so far to me do not appear to constitute a case for asylum. There is no question of his being deported or being otherwise required to leave, at least until the matter is considered thoroughly. I give that assurance to the Deputy that it will be considered thoroughly.

How long does the Minister reckon that will take?

The judges said on appeal, which was heard on 8 December, that he would confirm the sentences from 19 December unless the defendant got political asylum, so I think the decision will have to be made before 19 December.

I do not want to parse and analyse everything said by Deputy Keating about the said Mr. Rassouli but I want to say that probably I would be accused of nit-picking and that would be wrong too. The man in question did get on a course at the NIHE and the Garda have been told by the people in NIHE that his attendance record was exceptionally bad. I would like to say further, because the impression was given that he is a very dedicated student——

I thought that he was in Bolton Street now.

There is a lot that I do not want to say now.

I stressed that I have not got all the facts and I appreciate that.

I do not want to be crossing the Deputy's t's dotting his i's. That may not be the proper thing to do but it would be wrong to give the impression that he was a very dedicated student, because the NIHE would not have him back to continue his studies there. Then, of course, he came to the College of Technology in Bolton Street for the year 1979-80 but I am informed by the Garda that he was unsatisfactory in that college, too. Indeed, it is fair to say also, for fear that the impression would be given that the Department of Justice were going to lay their big, heavy hands on a boy of 29 years of age who is studying well—

He does not look 29. It was at one of his own lectures in Bolton Street that he came to me.

Whoever came to the Deputy, I can only tell what the police advised me.

I am surprised that they would have such an intimate knowledge of Bolton Street.

They would have to have a very intimate knowledge of a situation such as this. The implication of the Deputy's surprise could be teased out but I do not want to go into that now. The young man himself in May 1980 gave his reasons for not being a successful student to the Department when he called to see us. He spent most of his time travelling to and from the UK, he said, to meetings with other Iranians who were involved actively in the Shah's downfall. This is information from the young man himself.

All the factors will be considered by me when a decision has to be made on the question of political asylum. He was prosecuted by direction of the Garda who did not consult with me and who would not have to consult with me in the matter. On 22 September he was convicted in the District Court and sentenced to two consecutive terms of three months imprisonment for (1) working without a permit, (2) overstaying his permitted stay in the State. As I have said, maybe there are many pieces of information that Deputy Keating did not have.

I did not know that.

That is fair enough. But I would not, nor would the Deputy, want the impression to go abroad that I, with my size 20 hands, was picking a young man out from his academic studies and asking him to go.

He behaved in a juvenile fashion but the war has changed things for him.

On his own admission he spent a lot of his time travelling between here and the UK helping others plan the downfall of the leader of his country at the time, according to his statement to us in May of this year. Be that as it may, I give the Deputy the assurance that all the factors and implications will be considered fully by me when the time comes.

May I ask one brief question? Will the Minister include in those considerations the likely effect on him, regardless of the degree of irresponsibility of this young man up to now, of being repatriated compulsorily to his own country?

I will consider all the factors, all the effects, all the consequences and all the implications.

What does the Minister mean by implications?

We cannot start all over again.

There is an innuendo there that I do not quite see.

There is no innuendo. Some day if we are discussing the Estimate for the Department of Justice, or if the Deputy is discussing it with somebody, it will be well worth while to have a discussion on the work of the Aliens Section of that Department.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 16 December 1980.