Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Visas In The Cupboard

For three years, a woman waited in Dublin for the visas that would allow her husband and children to flee Ethiopia. For three years, two small children and an orphan adopted by her aunt waited in a refugee camp, dreaming of a new life in Ireland.

The visas were approved in August of 2005. Terribly sorry, missus, but they must have gotten lost in the post. Three years later, someone realized that the all-important visas were collecting dust in some office somewhere, forgotten or misplaced or misfiled.

Dermot Ahern has apologized profusely to the Somali woman who was granted refugee status in 2004. The Minister for Justice laid the blame on "profound system failures", which is a way of saying that someone shuffled the paperwork into the wrong pile and how's anything to be found if it's not in the right place?

The refugee was eager to have her family join her in Ireland, and she got after the department every year, asking after the status of her application. What did the Justice Department have to say at the time? They didn't answer her letters. No response is a no, in seeking literary agent representation as well as family reunification.

It took a gaggle of solicitors and the Freedom of Information Act to unlock the door to the halls of Justice, and wouldn't you know it, a bunch of legal minds discovered the visas. They had to pry the file out of the department's hands, too, but who wouldn't try to cover up something so embarrassing a gaffe as that?

Without delay, those visas were promptly.....well, when her husband went to the Irish Embassy in Addis Abbaba to pick up the new visas, nobody there knew nothing about no visas. So it was off to the High Court with the Somali refugee.

Mr. Justice John Hedigan asked the Department of Justice to explain itself, which it did, but in a rather bumbling fashion. The visas have since been re-issued and retrieved from the embassy, while the Somali refugee is working with her legal team to sue the pants off the government, citing all sorts of damages.

It would have been cheaper to pay a clerk a little extra to come in on a Saturday morning and rummage about in the bins and cupboards, back when the refugee first inquired about the status of her family reunification bid. But then, who ever said that bureaucracies were cost-efficient?

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