Seeking asylum is not a crime. The human face of detention.

Lodorice and her daughter Imelda - detained for two months

There has been much, often ill-informed, comment on the airwaves over the last couple of days on the proposed immigration (temporary) detention centre planned by the UK Borders Agency in Larne.

Much has come from local residents that foreign nationals being held in secure detention might escape, might take people’s jobs, might lower property values … who knows, they might even start barbecuing swans given half the chance.

Of course, the quality of the discourse was hardly helped by the BNP distributing racist leaflets in the Larne area showing a (mocked up) picture of two Muslim women on the town’s Glenarm Road with the caption ‘Are you ready for the benefits that an asylum centre will bring to your town?’

The BNP will no doubt be further heartened that this morning’s Stephen Nolan show on BBC Radio Ulster featured the BNP’s Graham Glass as a ‘concerned resident’, given the airwaves to further stoke fears about the centre.

What is largely missing from the debate is concern for those, who it is proposed, will be held in the detention centre, the latest expansion of facilities used to detain immigrants – sometimes illegal, sometimes, not – across the UK. The Larne centre would hold up to 22 detainees, for periods of up to a week, before they are moved on to larger detention centres in England and Scotland.

A recent report from the Refugee Action Group in Northern Ireland, showed the inhumane side of immigration detention here, not just in terms of the conditions of detention – and of course, these could actually be improved by new facilities, when the alternative is a police cell – but by the very fact of, often wholly unnecessary, detention.

Most people will not object to the removal of illegal immigrants from the UK; the government has a legal right and indeed obligation, to control its borders. Some of these individuals may need to be temporarily detained before removal. Again, that is not particularly in dispute. But Amnesty research has previously found that that many who were held in immigration detention centres across the UK — like those who may be held in Larne — ended up not being removed after release, begging the question as to why they had been detained in the first place.

The Refugee Action Group report, penned by Robin Wilson, notes that in 2009 the Home Affairs Select Committee at Westminster elicited the information that detention cost £130 per day per person, equivalent to more than £47,000 per year. In 2008 an Independent Asylum Commission called for a ‘root and branch review’ of detention and ‘an independent evaluation of viable long-term alternatives to detention, and of the likelihood and motivation of asylum seekers absconding’.

In short, those seeking asylum in Northern Ireland, including those whose claims have been refused by the authorities, should not be detained unless, for example, the UKBA can demonstrate that they would otherwise abscond, and that other measures short of detention, such as reporting requirements, would not be sufficient.

Detention is an extreme sanction for people who have not committed a criminal offence. It violates one of the most fundamental human rights protected by international law, the right to liberty. Here are a couple of recent examples from Northern Ireland, quoted in the Refugee Action Group report, of people having that right violated – unnecessarily – by the UKBA:

Jamiu was a Nigerian citizen studying in London, who visited Belfast for the christening of a friend’s baby girl. He said: “Instead of spending eight lovely days in Belfast I spent 10 days detained in an airport, a police cell, and a detention centre for illegal immigrants.” At Belfast International Airport, Jamiu was stopped by an immigration officer. He noted that the only other person taken out of the queue was a black woman. “I was very uncomfortable about this fact as other people were looking at us.”

Reflecting on the experience which saw him being held in a detention centre in Scotland prior to his release, Jamiu said: “I have never been in any trouble of any kind in my life… No matter how long I live, this ordeal will be with me for the rest of my life.”

Lodorice, a refugee from Cameroon, estimated that 15 police and immigration officers took part in a 7am raid on her Belfast home, which removed her and her baby daughter to a detention centre in Scotland, where they were kept for almost two weeks before being moved to detention in England. Lodorice and her baby were held for nearly two months in a single room before being returned to Belfast and given three years leave to remain here.

So these are the human faces behind the high fence of the proposed Larne centre. The bogeymen and women of the media reports and the hate-mongering BNP leaflets.

Before the go-ahead is given for the centre, doesn’t the UKBA owe them and the people of Northern Ireland, including those in Larne, an explanation of why it wants to be able to detain more such visitors to our shores?

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  • Alan Maskey

    Patrick

    Would you be prepared to house and feed some of these economic migrants?
    Amnesty International, as you know, is one of the groups leeching off these unfortunates so we can treat anything they say with a grain or two of salt..
    In hard times, immigrants are targets. They compete with the less off, not with the fat cats of Stormont or Dublin’s Vice Regal Lodge.
    Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, owns all swans in her dominion so anyone who nicks one is nicking Her Majesty’s swans. The Poles are probably guilty here and swans have vanished from quiet waterways.
    Perhaps we could expel the Poles and get immigrants who like to wear grey squirrels. I would support that myself as I don’t like the greys. (thpough the blacks seem to be on the march now too)
    Gerry Adams supports these economic migrants. Any chance of him housing soem of them in one or other of his villas?

  • Mark

    “Seeking asylum is not a crime.”

    – Actually, under international law asylum seekers must seek refuge in the first safe country they reach. Now, I’m no geographer, but a quick glance at a map tells you that the UK has the entire land mass of Europe between it and Africa. Are you naive enough to believe the UK was the first safe country they could make it to?

    Catch a grip. I think the article needs renaming for it to remain factually correct.

  • Ceist

    “Would you be prepared to house and feed some of these economic migrants”

    Economic migrants can work and indeed that’s why they’ve migrated – for economic reasons – you see what I’m getting at here? Asylum seekers are people forced to flee their country due to fear of persecution – you know, seeking asylum? Get it?

    Human beings who claim asylum cannot by law work, which means either (a) they survive on the pittance the government gives out or (b) they work illegally in an attempt to get an income even approaching whats needed to survive.

    If its (a) they get condemned for being “benefit scroungers” (itself a ridiculous term) and live in perpetual poverty (and so are doubly condemned, if it’s (b) they run the risk of being exploited in the way only people living without a shred of protection can.

    Its a simple premise of justice – no one can by virtue of being born be simply declared illegal. So it follows that no-one should have their freedom denied to them simply because of where they were born (or who indeed they are). The powers that were tried that in Northern Ireland – it was called internment.

    The criteria may have changed but the injustice of it certainly hasn’t.

    Amnesty do fantastic work in always speaking truth to power and many of their staff face harassment and persecution as a result.

    As an aside, we also need to spare a thought for the economic migrant. It seems that its ok to sing ‘Thousands are sailing’ or ‘The Streets of New York’ in Kelly’s Cellars or even stick a few murals up to the Ulster Scots diaspora and the various American Presidents it birthed – but god forbid someone should come to our wee country and try to make a life for themselves!?!?

    I wonder what the Polish is for ‘an American Wake’?

  • Alias

    Actually, the claim that most of them are economic asylum seekers is confirmed by the facts. The number seeking asylum in Ireland increased dramatically as the performance of its economy increased. For example, there were 39 applications for asylum in Ireland in 1992 when it was known internationally as a poor country but that figure had grown to an astonishing 10,938 applications in 2000. The Celtic Tiger, of course, started to kick off in 93, and that is also the year that the asylum applications also started to kick off.

    In 1996, 40 years after Ireland signed the Convention on the Rights of Refugees, Ireland recognised that news of its economic growth was attracting asylum seekers and it tightened up its obligations under that Convention my transposing it into national law. Despite making it more difficult for such bogus asylum seekers, their numbers continued to grow. The cost to taxpayers is substantial. The latest figures from the Department of Justice are that applications from asylum seekers cost tax-payers €171.5 million in 2007 and €187.9 million in 2008.

  • Alias

    Numbers making asylum applications in Ireland, Celtic Tiger years 1992-2000:

    1992 39

    1993 91

    1994 362

    1995 424

    1996 1,179

    1997 3,883

    1998 4,626

    1999 7,724

    2000 10,938

  • Andy W

    Too true Patrick, there has been a lot of ill informed comment on this issue. The media reports you have linked to are full of inaccuracies and exaggerations.

    Unfortunately the Refugee Action Group have contributed to this confusion with a piece which completely misrepresents the role (or lack of) which the local Council has in the planning process.

    http://www.communityni.org/news/no-larne-immigration-detention-centre

    I have e mailed the author of the piece privately but she has not responded. By stating, as RAG does, that the Council will be taking the final decision on whether the Detention Centre will go ahead, they are adding to the misinformation which is being peddled by the mainstream media. I spoke to the Bel Tel for half an hour on Friday explaining the planning process, none of which was reflected in the article which appeared the next day. Next time I write it down for them.

    As for the Nolan show…I wonder would they have outed the alleged ‘Resident’s Association’ spokesperson’s real affiliation on their own?

    Cllr Andy Wilson

  • http://blogs.amnesty.org.uk/blogs.asp?bid=25 Patrick Corrigan

    Mayor Wilson, it is clear that the author of the article you link to on Community NI misunderstands the role of councils in planning decisions. As I am sure you would agree, this is a misunderstanding common in Northern Ireland, both among ordinary people and sections of the media, and I can well see that it would be of continuing annoyance to those across NI’s 26 council areas. I too will contact the author and suggest a correction to this piece.

    I thought you spoke clearly and calmly on the issue on Nolan on Friday, explaining where different responsbilities lie, and making public the (purely coincidental, I’m sure) BNP affiliation of the ‘concerned resident’. The responsibility for this centre lies squarely with the UKBA and with the Home Office, but all of us, including local representatives, have a responsibility to scrutinise public policy and defend the most vulnerable from its excesses.

  • http://www.refugeeactiongroup.com Refugee Action Group

    Further to Mayor Wilson’s comments, RAG has amended the article on communityni.We acknowledge that the Council does not make planning decisions.

    RAG shares Patrick Corrigan’s thoughts that we all have a responsibility to scrutinise public policy. We would like to see local representatives voice opposition to these plans as we strongly believe that a detention centre will be damaging – not just for the detained individuals and their families, but also for wider community relations.

  • Down South

    In response to Alan Maskey – I have no problem welcoming asylum seekers to my town. They are welcome here as a place of refuge just as thousands of communities have welcomed Irish and Northern Irish emigrants over the decades and centuries. What planet do you live on if you think people are prepared to put up with the crap they get here by choice? A lot of people could do with getting over themselves and taking a good look at themselves through someone else’s eyes.

    Keep up the good work Patrick

  • Greenflag

    @ Alias ,

    ‘The cost to taxpayers is substantial. The latest figures from the Department of Justice are that applications from asylum seekers cost tax-payers €171.5 million in 2007 and €187.9 million in 2008.

    Thanks for those figures . Given the present ‘mountain’ facing Irish taxpayers the amount above looks miniscule .

    For some context – Back in the Round Room in January 2009, O’Connor spelled out his predecessor Seanie Fitzpatrick’s loan history from Anglo Irish which peaked at 177 million euro in 2007 . O’Connor told stunned shareholders that Fitzpatrick was a promiscuous investor , pouring money into among other things a Danubian island development in Hungary etc etc .

    I’d guess that one corrupt and crooked Irish banker ALONE will cost the Irish taxpayer a lot more than all our immigrants put together and yet the ‘**** er’ is still able to live the good life by virtue of ‘property rights law ‘ and the wise decision to include his wife’s name on some of his assets .

    I think our remaining Polish and other immigrants are worth a lot more to this country than all the crooked bankers combined .

    I hope Mr Corrigan keeps up the good work in highlighting the obvious anomalies in the detention of aliens .