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Centre boosts UK detention capacity

The UK will be able to hold up to 3,400 illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers at any one time with the opening of a new detention centre, the Home Office has said.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said the new centre at Morton Hall in Swinderby, Lincolnshire, "will help us remove more individuals who have no right to be here".

The first detainees were held last month and the centre will be fully operational by September, enabling the UK Border Agency to hold up to 3,400 people at any one time.

A former women's prison on the site of an old RAF base, Morton Hall has reopened as an immigration removal centre less than five months after the plans to close the jail were announced.

Opening the centre, Mr Green said a tough system of enforcement and removal "is one of the cornerstones of our reformed immigration system".

Morton Hall is the UK's 11th immigration removal centre which, like Colnbrook near Heathrow Airport and Yarl's Wood on the outskirts of Clapham in Bedfordshire, will hold people who have no legal right to be in the UK but who have refused to leave voluntarily.

This can include foreign national prisoners who have been released from jail but have still refused to leave.

Previously an RAF base, it was re-opened as an open prison in 1985 and refitted in 2001 to provide dedicated facilities for women offenders. The prison then expanded with two new units opening in 2002 and was recategorised as a closed women's prison in March 2009 before its closure was announced in January.

Women held in the 392-place Morton Hall prison, which had developed a specialist foreign national centre with around 50 nationalities represented, have now been moved to other sites. Its closure was announced along with plans to shut two further prisons at Ashwell in Rutland and Lancaster Castle in Lancashire, with a total loss of 849 prison places.

Last year, more than 16,500 people were removed from the UK directly from such centres, said the Home Office.

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