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Sunday 15 September 2019

Bank refused to let refugee open account because he was Syrian

Stock photo: PA
Stock photo: PA
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A bank has been ordered to pay €4,000 in compensation to a Syrian refugee after it refused to open a bank account for him on the grounds of his nationality.

The adjudication by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) came after the man took a case with the support of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC).

He came to Ireland under a programme to protect refugees displaced by the conflict in Syria and in 2017 he sought to open a bank account after entering employment.

However, according to his complaint, he was refused by a member of the bank's staff on presentation of his refugee travel document.

The man claimed he was told: "We don't open bank accounts for Syrians at the moment."

He complained to the bank and brought a case to the WRC under the Equal Status Acts.

At a hearing, the bank said it had always accepted refugee travel documents as proof of identity and that after becoming aware of the incident, it updated its website to specifically reflect this.

But in its adjudication, the WRC found two front-line staff at the bank "appeared to be oblivious to any policy that may have been in place to cover such a situation".

The adjudicator said it was difficult to disagree with the man's argument that where a service provider, such as the bank, was to have applied an explicit policy of direct discrimination based on nationality, there had to be an extensive duty on the bank to ensure that such a policy was carefully applied to avoid this kind of situation. The bank was ordered to pay compensation of €4,000 to the man.

The decision was welcomed by IHREC, which used its statutory powers to provide the man with legal assistance.

It said the case was not an isolated incident and that the bank had also been ordered to engage directly with IHREC to minimise the possibility of any type of re-occurrence.

"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," said IHREC chief commissioner Emily Logan.

Neither the bank nor the complainant were named in the adjudication.

Irish Independent

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