An asylum seeker accused of sexually assaulting two women in Belfast’s university district claims he was only trying to make friends, a court heard on Monday.
ekarias Gebreyohannes, 29, allegedly groped and made attempts to kiss them during separate encounters close to his address.
The Eritrean national appeared at Belfast Magistrates’ Court charged with two counts of sexual assault by touching.
Police said both incidents occurred at night near his accommodation at University Street in the city – on July 25 this year and then again on Sunday.
Gebreyohannes allegedly approached the first woman with his phone and asked for her WhatsApp number.
It was claimed that he tried to kiss her, put his arms round her waist and rubbed his groin against her.
The woman told police she was left “frozen” by what happened.
A second alleged victim said she was approached on October 3 by a man who introduced himself as “Zak”.
She claimed he put his hand inside her top and touched her breast, as well as attempting to kiss her.
During police interviews Gebreyohannes denied any intention to cause distress to either woman, the court heard.
A PSNI officer disclosed: “He said he is new to Northern Ireland and was trying to make friends.”
Opposing bail, she contended that the accused poses a risk to the public and could flee.
Defence solicitor Paul Farrell argued that his client provided a full account to police.
“He simply encountered these females and had a chat with them, but he vehemently denies there was any sexual act or inappropriate touching at all,” Mr Farrell said.
“These are isolated incidents, and not anything predatory.”
The court heard Gebreyohannes left Eritrea in 2015, travelling through Sudan, Libya, Italy, Germany and France before arriving in Northern Ireland.
“He was desperate to get to the United Kingdom,” Mr Farrell added.
But citing the accused’s status, District Judge Mark McGarrity refused bail due to the risk of flight.
Gebreyohannes was remanded in custody, to appear in court again in four weeks time.