Emergency Care Order for children travelling without verified guardian – 2016vol2#12

An Emergency Care Order was granted for two children, aged four and five, who arrived at an Irish airport in the company of a man who could not produce evidence of his relationship with them.

An Garda Síochána invoked their emergency powers under section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 to take the two children into care. At the next sitting of the Dublin District Court, the Child and Family Agency (CFA) made an application for an Emergency Care Order in respect of the children under section 13 of the 1991 Act.

Evidence was heard from an immigration official working in the Border Management Unit of the Department of Justice and Equality. The official said she noticed that a man who arrived into Dublin airport with two primary school age children had a different surname to that of the children. She queried if he was the father of the children. He answered that he was but she did not believe this answer and queried him further.

The passenger then told her that he was not the father of the children but he was the boyfriend of the children’s mother and was bringing them to their mother in Ireland. The man claimed to have had documentation to show his relationship to the children but this document was taken from him by an official at a transit airport. The immigration officer asked the passenger for a contact number for the children’s parents, but she noted that the number he rang was not saved in his mobile phone.

A call was made to an Irish mobile and the man who answered said he was expecting the passengers and that the children were his nieces but on being questioned was not able to give the name of the children. The immigration officer was joined by her supervisor and they continued to question the man. The passenger said the children were due to stay with his girlfriend’s uncle, where their parents were also living. He verbally gave the officials a rural address in Ireland but they found it to be indiscernible.

The immigration supervisor testified that the passenger’s “story changed numerous times”. The man initially said the children were sisters then he said they were cousins and he was the boyfriend of the younger child’s mother. When asked about the children’s parents he said they came to Ireland two weeks ago and then he changed this to say that both mothers were in another jurisdiction. He said one of the children was going to stay with her mother’s uncle in Ireland for one month.

The supervisor reported that the passenger said he had permission to travel with the children but when they were in a transit airport an official took the relevant document from him telling him he would not need it any more. The man was given an opportunity to ring anyone he could to get a number for the children’s parents or to get someone to email him the children’s birth certificates. The court was informed that the passenger had no luggage for the children, only the clothes they wore, and the man had hand luggage for himself.

The officials were not satisfied that they could establish the relationship between the passenger and the children nor could they establish whether or not he had consent to travel with the children. There was no documentation and there were differences in his statements. The supervisor said he had “grave concerns”.

A Garda Sergeant from the Garda National Immigration Bureau also gave evidence. He described the passenger as “totally evasive”. He said the passenger was adapting himself to what he thought they wanted to hear to get past immigration. The Sergeant reported that the man could not provide any information about the children other than their passports. He could not provide any account of the children’s fathers and said the mother of one child was in another jurisdictions and the other mother was in Ireland at the rural address given.

The Garda informed the court that he subsequently learned from the CFA that neither of the mothers was in Ireland. The passenger could only provide the name of one of the mothers. Of the contact telephone numbers the passenger provided the phones rang out, were turned off or were disconnected. The court was also informed that the passenger had a conviction for theft in UK.

The children had valid temporary passports which had been issued less than two weeks before they travelled. The children had travelled from an EU eastern European country through a non-EU country (as a transit stop). The children appeared to be the ages given on their passports.

The Child and Family Agency was contacted by the immigration officer. The social worker also questioned the passenger and queried if he needed an interpreter but he said he did not. The man told her the younger child was the child of his girlfriend and the other child was that child’s cousin. He said his girlfriend was due to join them at the rural address in Ireland in two weeks’ time, he had no knowledge of the child’s fathers. He asked the social worker when he could he leave with the children.

The social worker contacted the social worker in the rural area where the passenger said the uncle lived and reported to the court that the family were not known. She also described the efforts to contact the children’s parents by phone including a call to the grandfather of the man’s girlfriend in another jurisdiction to request him to get a contact number. It was agreed to ring the grandfather back in ten minutes but when he rang back there was no answer.

The social worker said a foreign embassy was contacted to verify the validity of the children’s passports, to see if they could contact the children’s parents and to check if the passenger had authority to travel with the children.

The judge enquired how the children appeared. The children were described as being “quite comfortable” in the company of the man but became upset during the investigation. They were “well care for, well clothed”.

The social worker, accompanied by an interpreter, met with both children in their emergency foster care placement. She said the children were “quite shy” and the younger one “appeared upset”, while the older one was “active and wanted to play”. She could not get any information from the children on where they were from or any other information. She said the children answered to different names, perhaps pet names, and seemed to speak and understand a second European language in addition to their mother tongue. She said the children had a strong smell and head lice and it appeared they had recently had chickenpox. There was nothing to indicate that the children had been in Ireland before.

After the children were taken into care, the passenger contacted the social worker to enquiry after the children and to ask if the younger child was upset. He said he had proof of his power of attorney in relation to the children.

The judge noted that the children appeared to be citizens of another EU country and there is a possibility that they have not been habitually resident in this State. He indicated that it was urgent case and that the Brussels II EU regulation may be relevant. The judge said that as none of the children’s parents had been identified with any degree of certainty it was not possible to have them served in respect of these proceedings.

He said from all the evidence presented it was clear that a number of different accounts had been given and the male passenger was unable to produce documentation to verify that he had permission to travel with the children, such as a document giving him power of attorney. The judge granted the application for an ECO for a period of eight days in respect of the two children. He said it was a “sad end”, the children appeared to be happy in the man’s company and have been reasonably well cared for but it had not been possible to establish an appropriate connection to the children. He did not appoint a GAL.

A week later the Emergency Care Order expired and the CFA withdraw its application as the man was able to prove he had authority to travel with the children.