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'Upsetting and humiliating': AIB ordered to pay €4,000 to Syrian dentist over account refusal

The discrimination case was taken before the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

Image: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

THE WORKPLACE RELATIONS Commission (WRC) has ordered Allied Irish Bank (AIB) to pay a Syrian dentist €4,000 over its refusal to open up a bank account for him as he was Syrian.

The successful discrimination case was taken on behalf of the Syrian refugee by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) and the man told AIB in a letter that he found its refusal to open up a bank account for him in November 2017 as “upsetting and humiliating”.

The IHREC told the WRC that in the days after the refusal, the bank aggravated the discrimination by offering the dentist €250 in compensation and offering him to open a bank account.

The IHREC described the bank’s offer to open a bank account for the Syrian man “as an empty exercise in PR”.

The IHREC stated: “That is no more than the treatment he was always entitled to and utterly beside the point.”

The WRC found that AIB discriminated against the man on the grounds of race under the Equal Status Act.

In the case, the Syrian man was granted refugee status here in July 2017 after the man came to Ireland as part of the country’s Refugee Protection Programme.

The man is currently in the process of re-qualifying as a dentist here and on 16 November 2017, he went to an AIB branch to open a bank account.

In his evidence, the Syrian stated that a female bank official told him “we don’t open bank accounts for Syrians at the moment” and she pointed to the word “Syria” which is recorded on the Travel Document as his place of birth.

The dentist said that the bank official said that she was sorry over the war in Syria and that he could try another bank.

The man wrote to the AIB to notify the bank of its treatment of him.

An AIB Regional Manager wrote back on 1 December 2017 to apologise for the “poor customer experience” the man encountered on 16 November and offered to open a bank account.

The bank’s policies restrict staff from opening new accounts for Syrian residents, as Syrian residents are on the UN Sanctions List, but those restrictions don’t apply in the dentist’s case as he has been granted refugee status in Ireland.

The dentist wrote back stating “it is very important to me that robust systems are properly in place to ensure that no other Syrian, or indeed no other refugee, would have a similar negative experience”.

‘Does not discriminate’

In its submission to the WRC, AIB stated that “it does not discriminate against refugees”.

It stated that “it accepts the Irish Refugee Travel Documents as an acceptable form of proof of identity for customers opening accounts and has opened numerous accounts for customers with refugee status in Ireland who used that documents”.

AIB also told the WRC that while it accepts and always accepted refugee travel documents as proof of identity, “since becoming aware of this incident, the Bank has updated its website to specifically refer to the fact that travel documents are accepted”.

The bank also stated that the bank official’s error “was regrettable, but thankfully isolated” and the bank “is not aware of any similar incidents arising in any other of its branches”.

The bank also stated that refresher training was provided to all relevant staff in the Dublin Region in the service area concerned.

The bank told the WRC that within three days of being notified of the incident, AIB offered to open an account for the Syrian man and this this offer is still in place.

AIB state that there was no ill intention towards the man or Syrian nationals whatsoever. 

It stated that the bank official believed that she was complying with the bank’s procedures.

‘Experience of humiliation’

The Syrian man at the centre of the case said today said that he took the case for simple reason – “the experience of humiliation, and being rejected, and having the door slammed in your the face because of something you were born with – such as race – or something forced on you, such as being a refugee; I do not want this experience to happen to others.”

He added: “I know people who were rejected by banks but they did nothing for many reasons – one is that they do not know how to deal with this situation or what to do. Therefore, they just stay quiet and drop it. If you do not hear about such cases, that does not mean that they do not happen, they do.

He concluded: “The reason why I’m pleased is that the adjudicator took it seriously and directed the bank to take serious steps in order to prevent such an incident from happening, by engaging with IHREC, and I see this as a wise decision.”

Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Emily Logan stated: “Financial institutions need to ensure that customers are protected from any form of discrimination by putting in place appropriate training mechanisms and clear guidelines, and ensuring staff are aware of them.

As a lawful resident of Ireland, this man had the right to open a bank account subject to the usual banking conditions, irrespective of his nationality.

Logan added: “The Commission welcomes this outcome from the WRC following our legal support for his case. We will be engaging with the bank over the next six months to ensure that appropriate actions are taken.

She added: “The Commission is aware that this is not an isolated incident and we are aware of other people who have experienced similar incidents, and we would ask all service providers to pay attention this outcome.”

A spokesman for AIB stated: “While AIB does not comment on individual cases, we do welcome and support customer applications from people with refugee status, and have trained our staff to help applicants through the account opening process.”

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Gordon Deegan

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