Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Concern at illegal immigrant advice

The UK Border Agency's operation is focused on Belfast International and George Best Belfast City airports as well as Belfast and Larne seaports

Many illegal immigrants detained in Northern Ireland are not receiving proper legal advice, a support group has claimed.

The number detained at sea ports linking Northern Ireland and Scotland has increased by nearly 75%. Nearly 300 people were intercepted last year attempting to use the ports. The information was revealed in the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) annual report.

The UK Border Agency's operation is focused on Belfast International and George Best Belfast City airports as well as Belfast and Larne seaports. It targets passengers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Fidelma O'Hagan, a legal adviser at the Law Centre Northern Ireland, said: "There is a lack of access to legal representation prior to removal.

"I would be surprised if there are not people removed who have a right to be here and are not intending to break immigration laws."

She questioned why the enforcement, known as Operation Gull, was contained in the organised crime taskforce`s report.

"An individual arriving here who is removed under Operation Gull is removed as an individual," she said. "There has never been a suggestion that there is a wider network."

She added there had been ongoing concern about ethnic profiling since 2006. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has raised concerns that flights targeted came from London and were more likely to include ethnic minorities.

According to the taskforce report, in the last year detection of illegal immigrants increased by around 60% overall with 281 people intercepted attempting to abuse or help abuse Northern Ireland sea ports to illegally travel across the UK. More than 70% of these offenders were removed from the UK.

In the six years since Operation Gull's introduction, more than 3,500 immigration offenders have been detected, with more than 60% removed from the UK. Close working with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has delivered more than 250 prosecutions and resulted in the seizure of more than £250,000 under the Proceeds of Crime Act over the last two years.

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