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Column: I’ve been waiting three years on my citizenship application

Lutfullah Shafaq, 23, has a degree, has never claimed benefits, and wants to work as an Irish taxpayer. So why is the Government restricting his movements?

Lutfullah Shafaq

MY NAME IS Lutfullah Shafaq, originally from Afghanistan. I am 23 years of age and I have been living in Ireland for the past ten years. Due to threats to my father’s life for associating with ‘non-Muslims’ while living in Pakistan, the UNHCR, IOM and the Red Cross assisted us in finding a safer home and thus we came to be relocated to Ireland as Programme Refugees.

So far, my life in Ireland has been peaceful, productive and I have been received as an equal by the Irish community. My expectations from life have been exceeded to levels that are out of reach for the majority of Afghans. I will always be indebted to Ireland for the opportunities she has placed before me. Thanks to the benevolence of the Irish, I have been able to graduate from Trinity College Dublin with a professional degree in engineering which is recognised around the world and I am now able to pursue a Master’s course in the same field.

Although my life is better than it ever could have been living in Pakistan or Afghanistan, there is one major issue (in my opinion) which is threatening to compromise my capability to serve Ireland and her people. This issue is also having an adverse effect on my personal life and professional career.

This issue is related to the process of awarding and rejecting naturalisation to immigrants. I would like to bring to the attention of the public to this matter.

I will start with my brother’s story who applied for naturalisation many years ago. After three years of waiting, his application for naturalisation was rejected because he was deemed to be of ‘bad character’ for being charged and convicted of an offence. The offence committed by my brother was that he drove a vehicle while in possession of a provisional license without L-plates. He is now condemned by the state of being of bad character and must live as a ‘stateless person’ for an unknown period of time. I say unknown because the rules concerning awarding naturalisation to people who have been convicted of a crime or offence are very vague.

In my brother’s defence I would like to say that he is highly successful in his life, having graduated from DCU with a first class degree in mechanical engineering and subsequently working on a PhD. He hopes to acquire his doctorate in September 2012. My brother has found it hard to deal with the decision made by the Minister of Justice; he has come to believe that the Minister’s decision regarding his application is justified and that he really has a ‘bad character’ in the sense that he is not a good person.

‘I do not hold a criminal record, nor have I ever claimed social welfare’

I submitted my application for naturalisation in September 2008 and I am yet to receive a decision on the application. This is a waiting period of approximately forty months. I think it is disgraceful and unacceptable on the part of the Department of Justice to delay applications to such an extent. I do not hold citizenship of any state, and it deprives me of my right to travel for any period over eleven months. (It takes one month to issue a travel document).

I have never been charged with an offence. I do not hold a criminal record, nor have I ever claimed social welfare (you are considered a burden on the state if you do). I have worked every summer since the age of fifteen, initially to have money to spend but lately to financially support myself through college. I do not see the reason for such an exceptional delay.

So far I have not been drastically affected by the delay in a decision in my application. However, I am due to complete my Master’s course in September 2012. The construction industry is in tatters, it is not likely that I will acquire a civil engineering graduate opportunity and I have no intentions of claiming jobseeker’s allowance. As I mentioned already, the travel document issued to me is only valid for a period of just under one year. This makes it hard to acquire certain working visas.

My opinion is that the Department of Justice is treating me like a prisoner who cannot leave the country for periods of over eleven months. This deprives me of valuable work experience in the field of civil engineering which affects my self-development and it compromises my intention of serving Ireland to the best of my ability once I can find employment here.

I cannot return to Afghanistan now because my mentality and ideology is not compatible with the Afghan culture, but at the same time I cannot live as a stateless person for the rest of my life (as my brother possibly is). I rarely visit other countries because the travel document issued is not generally known. When I have visited other European countries, in majority of the cases I have been asked to step aside for questioning and interrogation. This makes the whole experience of holidays and general visits disappointing.

I wish to get across my story to the Irish people and I hope this matter is given consideration as I am not the only one experiencing such treatment.

Lutfullah Shafaq is studying for a master’s degree in engineering.

About the author:

Lutfullah Shafaq

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