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Saturday 20 October 2018

10-year fight to prove daughter's citizenship

Women in Eritrea struggling for support from Irish dads

HOME: Martha Woldu Hagos and her daughter Martina Padwick, 10, enjoy the sunshine in the grounds of Trinity College, Dublin.
HOME: Martha Woldu Hagos and her daughter Martina Padwick, 10, enjoy the sunshine in the grounds of Trinity College, Dublin.


AT least two children have been abandoned in Eritrea by their Irish fathers, according to the mother of an African girl who spent almost a decade fighting to prove her daughter's Irish citizenship.

Martha Woldu Hagos, who visited Ireland for the first time last week with her daughter Martina Padwick, told the Sunday Independent: "There are other Irish children in Asmara (the capital of Eritrea). They have been left there by their (Irish) fathers who have forgotten them.

"I know one woman who has a son the same age as Martina. Her father was working with an NGO. He was an Irish guy who said 'I'll give you some money but don't look for anything more'."

Ms Woldu Hagos said after a few years the money dried up and the mother was left to bring up her son alone.

She said that women in Eritrea, one of the poorest countries in the world, did not have the means to force Irish fathers in Europe to accept their responsibilities.

"There is another child in Eritrea whose father I believe is also a soldier. I met the mother. I tried to help her but it is very difficult," Ms Woldu Hagos said. "Her child looks so Irish playing in the streets of Asmara. I believe her."

Ms Woldu Hagos met a soldier from Cork called Martin Padwick when he was on a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Eritrea.

Mr Padwick was a chef who worked in the Army's kitchen alongside Ms Woldu Hagos when they started going out.

Mr Padwick died in December 2002 soon after he returned home, leaving his daughter's future in limbo.

Ms Woldu Hagos first told the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2004 that her daughter was Irish, but received no help. She was told she would have to establish her child's citizenship herself, an impossible task for a young single mother living in impoverished conditions 5,700km away.

All she received during these years was a once-off whip-around from Mr Padwick's fellow soldiers.

In 2009, Anthony Joyce, a solicitor, and Simon Palmer, a public relations adviser, took up her case pro bono in the wake of an article by this reporter and John Mooney in a Sunday newspaper.

The then minister for foreign affairs Micheal Martin ordered a DNA test after the matter was raised in the Dail. This test proved Martina was Mr Padwick's daughter and was entitled to an Irish passport and part of his pension, which over a decade had accumulated to €26,000.

In June 2012, Ms Woldu Hagos married Denham Vickers, a mining engineer from Liverpool, after they met while working in Eritrea.

She visited Dublin and Cork last week with Mr Vickers, Martina and their son Joshua. They met one of Mr Padwick's former comrades in the Irish Army in Cork, who had also served in Eritrea.

Ms Woldu Hagos and her family now live in Kenya, where Mr Vickers is working.

"The whole thing has been pretty bizarre," Mr Vickers said. "It took so long to prove [Martina was Irish]. It is a testament to stubbornness and not taking 'No' for an answer as well as the power of the press in highlighting the story."

"Ireland is beautiful," Martina Padwick said. "I would like to visit again when I am older." Her mother added: "I would like to thank everybody who helped us. God bless you."

"It's great to finally meet Martina and her family," Mr Palmer said. "She's a lovely little girl who now has a bright future thanks to the Irish Government recognising her citizenship."

"When she's older, she has the opportunity to obtain a free university education here and can live and work anywhere in the EU," he added.

"Martina is one of the lucky ones. Unfortunately, we know of other Irish children in Eritrea whose fathers are current serving or former members of the Defence Forces. They are being denied the benefits of their Irish citizenship and if not helped will be drafted into the Eritrean army when they're 16," he added.

"The Irish State has a duty of care to these children, as do their fathers. Anyone who needs assistance in obtaining citizenship for an Irish child they have in Eritrea, or any other country where the Defence Forces have served, should contact us."

Irish Independent

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