So what if she forged?

Pamela Izevbekhai with her children
Pamela Izevbekhai with her children

I am writing this before the case has been decided and before we know whether a Nigerian mother who is seeking asylum in Ireland for herself and her daughters is allowed to remain in Ireland.

Much has been said about Pamela Izevbekhai’s case. Her recent admission, on the Marion Finnucane show, that her asylum claim was based on forged documents provided a dramatic turning point not only in her own case, but in the whole complex relations between the Irish state and African, particularly Nigerian, asylum seekers.

Izevbekhai has claimed asylum because her two young daughters may be subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) if they are deported to Nigeria, also claiming that an older daughter had bled to death as a result of FGM. The fact that her lawyers decided to withdraw from the case because they refused to be seen to support a case based on forgery, and the contradictory evidence of her Nigerian doctor who last year spoke on RTE confirming her claim, and who has now stated (for a fee, it seems – having been paid €5,000 by The Sunday Times) that her claim is a lie, make this one of the most complicated asylum cases in Ireland’s short history of dealing with asylum applications since the early 1990s.

On the one hand, we have the Minister for Integration quoting the Nigerian authorities’ insistence that no FGM is being performed in Nigeria. However no one has asked the question why should a minister for integration travel to Nigeria for discussions with the Nigerian government on facilitating deportations, instead of fulfilling his brief which is to integrate immigrants in this country. On the other hand, Izevbekhai’s supporters are questioning how come the state has not disputed the facts of the case for the four years since her asylum application was first made. Izevbekhai herself, even though she admitted forging documents (but surely most asylum seekers forge documents, lie, bribe – anything to get themselves out of difficult and compromising situations?), insisted that she did not lie about the basic facts of the case, and that she will do what she can to protect her children. Nor is the fact that FGM is practiced in parts of Nigeria disputed.

I have no doubts that, contradictory as this claim may be, Pamela Izevbekhai and her daughters, who have lived and have become an integral part of Sligo for four years, should be allowed to stay. Her Sligo supporters, as well as groups such as Residents against Racism, believe that it would not be safe to deport the family back to Nigeria. Ultimately, I believe, as do her Sligo supporters, that whatever the legal connotations, this case is about the safety of these two little girls and their mother. Ireland is a hard place for asylum seekers and the government is probably scared that if Pamela is allowed to remain, many other African women will use FGM to claim asylum. The fact that, as AkiDwa believes, some 2,500 women who have experienced FGM are living in Ireland, tends to be forgotten in the rush to demonise asylum seekers as calculating opportunists. Until recently you might have said this disdain for asylum seekers had to do with the state’s preference for skilled labour migrants. But now, with full employment a thing of the past, only the heartlessness remains. Please join me in demanding that Ireland allows Pamela and her daughter to stay.