No to Larne immigration detention centre (NI)

PRESS RELEASE - Refugee Action Group

The Refugee Action Group has stepped up its campaign against the opening of the immigration detention centre in Larne as the Home Office UK Border Agency presses ahead with plans for the centre. The Larne Borough Council meets on Friday to make a final planning decision on the centre. This would be the first such centre in Northern Ireland, possibly housing 22 detainees at any one time. The Group notes that in 2008, the Council of Europe urged the UK government “to consider the possibility of drastically limiting migrants’ administrative detention”. Despite this and the considerable recent cuts to the Home Office budget, the UK Border Agency appears intent on the very costly exercise of building an immigrant detention facility in Larne.

RAG member Anna Morvern, who has worked with immigration detainees fighting for their right to liberty in England, said: “There will be a huge human cost if this centre opens. The immigration detention centres in Britain have become notorious, due to the desperation of the detainees inside them who have lost their freedom."

In 2002, Yarls Wood Immigration Detention Centre in England burnt down after protests by detainees. In 2006, protests erupted at Harmondsworth Detention Centre, with detainees spelling out the words ‘SOS Freedom’ with blankets in the courtyard for the media in helicopters overhead.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons has been very critical of immigration
detention centres in a number of her reports, including short-term holding facilities such as the proposed centre in Larne. In one recent report, she described bullying and violence inside one centre, with windowless and oppressive rooms.”

Instead of locking up asylum-seekers in expensive administrative detention, RAG believes that Northern Ireland should be welcoming them in their time of need and giving them due credit for the value that they bring to the Northern Irish society and economy. RAG makes the case that it is much better for race relations for newcomers to be based in the community. There, they can become integrated into local
society. Even for those facing removal or deportation, there are many
preferable, community-based alternatives to detention.

RAG member Liz Griffith, explained: “At RAG, we know that many local people are quite disturbed about the way some migrants are treated. RAG volunteers run an emergency detention immigration helpline and members of the public call the number because they have witnessed an individual or family being questioned and detained by immigration officers down at the docks or at the airport. The callers are often horrified that this sort of thing goes on and want to be able to help in some way. If migrants are locked away out-of-sight, this will fuel myths about the detainees, because nobody actually gets to know them well. The racist minority here can blow those misperceptions out of all proportion and that can fuel a cycle of irrational fear.”

Paul Kazadi, Chair of RAG and himself a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, concluded: “Being detained is a very frightening experience. You are isolated from your family, friends and community, and the detention centre staff may not even speak your language. Once you are inside the UK immigration detention system, you can be moved from detention centre to detention centre at the whim of the UK Border Agency, and it can be very hard for family and friends to maintain contact with you.”

RAG is urging local politicians and councillors to stand up for freedom
against the proposed facility. Even though decisions on immigration are made by Westminster, local decisions will be made about planning and resources for the centre. RAG asserts that vocal political opposition here is a must.

The Refugee Action Group is a coalition of NGOs, voluntary sector
organisations, refugees and individuals with an interest in refugee issues in Northern Ireland. It has supported the campaigns of individual refugees who have been detained during their fight against removal from Northern Ireland, including the families of Comfort Adefowoju and Lodorice Djouontso.

For further information contact Liz Griffith (RAG) 07813 462708