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Immigration Enforcement

Last Updated 19/07/2017

images (22)I just wanted to take my Bible, but they wouldn’t let me.
A detainee interviewed by NI Human Rights Commission Researchers, Our Hidden Borders: The UK Border Agency’s Powers of Detention, page 52

The Medical Justice Network campaigns to improve conditions for people in detention. Their literature gives a sense of how traumatic detention can be:
‘My torture was terrible, but giving birth in handcuffs came a close second.’

There is a Common Travel Area, including the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and citizens can cross the Irish border at present without any formal checks. There is also freedom of movement for members of the European Economic Area for the purposes of work.

The authorities in Ireland, both north and south, however, try to prevent movement for the purposes of human trafficking and other organised crime. They also try to control unauthorised movement into the island of Ireland or across the internal border between the Republic of Ireland and the UK by people from outside Europe who do not have the proper visas. In recent history, the enforcement of immigration controls, at our ports, airports and the border, has been through Operation Gull, a joint PSNI, Garda Síochána and Home Office operation.

Between 2010 and 2015  1,133 suspected immigration offenders were detected through Operation Gull.

In October 2016, the NI Secretary of State, James Brokenshire stated that there is still ahigh level of collaboration on a joint programme of workbetween the ROI and the UK to control immigration.

The Home Office also conducts enforcement raids on homes and work premises within N I to detect immigration offenders who have either overstayed their work or visitors’ visas or who have never had proper documentation.

People within the asylum system have to report regularly to the Home Office in Belfast and may be detained at any time, if it is felt that their case has little hope of success, if they have exhausted all appeals, or have broken Home Office rules. This makes reporting a frightening process.

Immigration enforcement is not without problems:
• Travellers may be stopped or detained by mistake.
• There have been accusations of racial profiling.
• People, including asylum applicants, may stray across the border because they are unaware of its existence.
• Those who live on one side of the border and work on the other may experience difficulties.
• The victims of human trafficking may find it hard to prove that they are not immigration offenders or willing participants in organised crime, such as cannabis farming.
• Asylum applicants who are detained may lose their belongings and find it hard to maintain contact with legal advisers and friends.
• Immigration detention is like being imprisoned, is stressful and has no legal time limit.

Read more about these issues:
Migration Observatory briefing, Deportations, Removals and Voluntary Departures, July 2017

Immigration Detention in the UK

People who are charged with immigration offences may be remanded in custody within the prison system but the majority of immigration detainees are housed in Immigration Removal Centres (IRC) on the assumption that they will be removed from the country within a short time.

In the years from 2009 to 2016, between 2,500 and 3,500 people have been detained in the UK at any given time. During 2016 28,900 people entered detention.
See http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/immigration-detention-in-the-uk/

In 2015, 40,896 people were removed from the UK or left voluntarily after the Home Office initiated their removal. Of these, 5,238 were asylum applicants, or their dependents. See http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/deportations-removals-and-voluntary-departures-from-the-uk/

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How Immigration Policies are Enforced Today

Officials have the right to detain anyone suspected of committing an immigration offence, as well as people in the asylum system. Locally, this may include people who have strayed across the border without the correct visa, or asylum applicants who live in the community. Others are detained if it is felt that their asylum application has little hope of success, or if the person has exhausted all appeal remedies.
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Larne House Short-term Holding Centre

People picked up in N Ireland used to be detained within the prison system locally but are now sent to Larne House Short-term Residential Holding Unit, Larne, Co. Antrim. These immigration detainees can be held at Larne for a maximum of seven days prior to the majority being removed directly from the UK. A few are moved to Immigration Removal Centres in GB, or released – in some cases to apply for asylum.
Read more

Further Reading

Migration Observatory briefing, November 2013
Migration Observatory ‘policy primer’ on detention in the UK
Liz Griffith, Prison by another name in Frontline Social Welfare Law Quarterly, 81, Autumn 2011
Refugee Action Group (RAG) Distant Voices, Shaken Lives; Human Stories of Immigration Detention from Northern Ireland
NI Human Rights Commission Our Hidden Borders: The UK Border Agency’s Powers of Detention
Law Centre (NI) briefing on Operation Gull, 2008
Right to Remain (formerly the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns) online information on immigration detention
Crossing the Border EMBRACE Fact sheet