Thursday, April 28, 2005

Ombudsman decries Human Rights violation

Dominique Searle reports

Immigrant on the streets

The plight of an illegal immigrant from Sierra Leone who arrived at Gibraltar five years ago and has been living from day to day washing cars since then, took a new turn yesterday as Immigration Officials made his state of limbo official by declining any form of residency permit.

Everything Matthew Turay Gbassey, 30, does is basically illegal, even walking the streets and not for the first time a foreign national is caught in a web of bureaucracy.

“This case must surely rank among the worst violations of a person’s human rights within Gibraltar,” Ombudsman Mario Hook said yesterday.

He drew similar conclusions last year when, after having investigated the issue formally he approached lawyer Daniel Feetham to take up the case on a pro bono basis. The decision yesterday came as the authorities faced a judicial review of their failure to take a decision.

The move by the Immigration authorities does not alter the fact that Mr Turay, who claims to have escaped prison in war torn Sierra Leone, is not allowed to earn his way whilst he is in Gibraltar, nor is he anticipating being officially deported.

The judicial review would have risked the Immigration Control Ordinance being found to infringe the Constitution.

In November 2001 the Principal Immigration Officer wrote to the Ombudsman on this case and said that even if Mr Turay had obtained formal identification documents (he had none when he arrived) to deport him to Sierra Leone would mean transiting him through Britain and that this “may prove difficult or even impossible.”

Mr Feetham responded to the move by the Immigration authorities yesterday saying that the decision effectively made Gibraltar an open prison for a man who is increasingly destitute.

“What is he expected to do. He cannot be expected to breach international law and smuggle himself to Spain.”

That was the fate of previous persons in similar circumstances including the well known Nacu case.

Mr Hook is concerned that Gibraltar is depriving Mr Turay of any rights and that, unless deported, he should be allowed to make himself useful to the society and earn a living in the meantime. Even in washing cars as he regularly does in the Catholic Community area police have fined him for driving without a licence when owners have left him their keys to move the vehicle.

In a letter last August, seen by the Chronicle, Mr Hook stated:

“ever since Matthew arrived in Gibraltar he has lived a pitiful existence and to this day continues to live in a state of administrative limbo; to put it bluntly, so far as the authorities are concerned he simply does not exist - this must be the only human being living in Gibraltar without any kind of rights whatsoever. He has no access to any service, be it social, medical or of any other kind. On the other hand, if he is deemed to have committed any kind of offence then he does exist and all administrative, enforcement and judicial machinery immediately come into effect.”

The upshot is that Mr Turay is often forced to beg for support. He recently obtained a passport for Sierra Leone and even the previous deputy Governor had conceded that Mr Turay should be “afforded some modicum of human dignity.”

An appeal to the Governor is being prepared.

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