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‘We cried all the way home’: Family devastated as former au pair detained in Mountjoy

The family believe that immigration officials thought the woman had travelled to Ireland to work.

Paloma was held in the Dochas Centre in Mountjoy Prison.
Paloma was held in the Dochas Centre in Mountjoy Prison.
Image: RollingNews.ie

A BRAZILIAN WOMAN has spoken about her devastation over being taken to jail and threatened with deportation after arriving in Ireland to visit a family she once worked for as an au pair.

24-year-old Paloma Aparezida Silva-Carvalho spoke to RTE’s Liveline today and recounted how the ordeal began when she was stopped by garda immigration officers at passport control in Dublin Airport.

She explained to officials that she was in Ireland to visit the Muller-Wieland family from Galway as well as other friends she made while working as an au pair and studying.

She said that officials queried why she was back to Ireland so soon having only been away from Ireland for nine months.

Karen Muller-Wieland joined the conversation and explained how her husband got a call from immigration officers asking him to confirm that Paloma was staying with them for some of her visit at their home in Moycullen. She said the conversation was amiable and her husband thought everything was okay.

The family first realised things were amiss when a later phone call revealed that Paloma had been denied access to the country.

“You’re not her family. I can’t give you any further information, I can’t even tell you where she is,” Karen recounted an official saying.

At this stage my heart nearly stopped. I was like ‘oh my god, what’s going on?’

Karen described how Paloma became “like a sister” to her and grew very close to the children during the time she worked for them as an au pair.

Karen said she thinks the officials suspected that Paloma was travelling to Ireland to work.

“They wouldn’t believe that she was coming to visit,” she explained. “In her time here she made many, many, friends through the English school she attended and obviously she got very close to the children. She met her current fiancé here.”

The realisation that she was being taken to prison struck Paloma when she was told to leave all her belongings, including her jewellery.

“I had to take off all of my clothes to show that I didn’t have anything with me. I had to stay completely naked and even take off my pants to show that I didn’t have anything, maybe, inside my body,” Paloma recalled.

I was all the time trying to be strong and not cry, but then I couldn’t.

Paloma was transferred to Dóchas women’s prison at Mountjoy where she was confined in a cell along with another woman before being moved to a room designed for someone who is a suicide risk.

The room was very, very small, the toilet was quite close to the bed. It was very, very dirty. It was disgusting.

Karen told of the family’s trauma as the situation unfolded. “I was so distraught, the children were crying all evening. We had spent all day getting the room ready, picking her flowers, wrapping her presents.”

“I knew Paloma was terrified in prison, with no one to help her, no legal representation. I couldn’t even go to Dublin to give her comfort. It was the most horrendous night.”

I had her mom on the phone with not a word of English, hysterical, sobbing, having a panic attack, and I could give her no reassurance.

Yesterday morning Karen finally got a call from the prison and was allowed to speak to Paloma. Karen said she was very distressed and it was obvious she had been in tears all night.

Through talking to authorities Karen managed to secure a meeting with Paloma and, because she believed she would potentially never see Paloma again, the family travelled from Galway to Mountjoy.

She said the meeting was “very difficult” as Paloma was very distressed and had clearly spent the night crying.

Karen then explained how she contacted solicitors, politicians and friends to fight to stop Paloma being deported which would have meant she would potentially never have been allowed back into Ireland or the EU.

I felt so ashamed and so saddened that I am representing a country where I cannot keep my own guests safe and in a civil environment. And a 24-year-old woman is twice asked to strip like a criminal.

A frantic effort to stop the deportation at the High Court failed and the family returned to Galway heartbroken. “We cried all the way home,” Karen said.

She then recalled how the situation suddenly resolved itself when she received a voicemail from the gardaí which informed her that Paloma was free to leave Mountjoy.

She was released shortly before 10pm last night, however she is only allowed to stay in Ireland for 10 days.

The Department of Justice said it could not comment on specific cases but said that the Irish immigration system is “one of the least burdensome for visitors.”

Immigration officers respect the dignity of all persons they engage with and carry out their functions with professionalism and care.

The department noted that there are in total 12 grounds on which an immigration officer may refuse to give a permission to enter the State and a refusal need only be based on any one of those grounds.

A spokesman for the prison service said it does not comment on individual prisoners or cases. However they did note that the service must accept all those committed to its custody and does not have the option of refusing committals.

Regarding the strip search Paloma underwent the spokesman said that strip searches are part of the committal process and they must be carried out.

He noted that people are provided with dressing gowns and in the Dóchas Centre no male officers are present while women are being searched.

READ: ‘No Garda vetting, inadequate investigations’ – Tusla slammed over standard of Cork foster care services>

READ: Poll: Do you think Ireland’s criminal legal aid system is being abused?>

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Ceimin Burke

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