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New report shows more asylum seekers being imprisoned in Northern Ireland

The report – Measuring Misery, detention of asylum seekers in Northern Ireland: a statistical analysis 2002-2004 – has been produced by the Refugee Action Group, a coalition of refugee and human rights campaigners and organisations.

The report comes just days before the Prison Service is due to move asylum seekers and other immigration detainees from Maghaberry to prison facilities at Belfast Prison (Crumlin Road) and Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre.

The report’s key findings are:

  • a more than doubling of the numbers of asylum seekers imprisoned in Northern Ireland
  • a five-fold increase in the numberof female asylum seekers being detained in prison
  • the detention in prison of infants alongside their asylum seeker mothers
  • a total prison bill over two years of between £560,000 and £870,000 for asylum seekers and between £1 and £1.5 million for all immigration detainees

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International, one of the report authors, said:

“Our findings reveal a shocking increase in the use of prison for dealing with people who have often fled to Northern Ireland in fear of their lives.

'Over the two years we examined in detail, we see more men, more Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and more Children's rights being put behind bars even though they have no committed no crime.

“This is a classic case of injustice and it is being carried out by the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Office in our midst.

'The imminent removal of asylum seekers from Maghaberry to prison facilities at Crumlin Road and Hyde Bank Wood is not a solution to this problem, but a signal of the Government’s current intention to continue with this discredited policy in Northern Ireland.

'The publication of this report today signals our resolve to keep speaking out for justice and an end to this policy.”

The research is based on the prison visit reports during March 2002 – February 2004 of the Refugee Action Group, which has carried out weekly welfare visits to immigration detainees held in Northern Ireland prisons since 2001.

Speaking at the launch in Belfast was Kate (name changed to protect identity), an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe, who fled her home country after she was beaten up and her home petrol bombed as a result of her support for an opposition party.

Earlier this year she was put in Maghaberry Prison, where was held alongside convicted prisoners and where she alleges she suffered racist verbal abuse from staff.

She said:

“I was treated just like any convicted prisoner. Prison officers jeered at me saying, ‘why didn’t I just go home to where I came from?’ They just didn’t understand. I was really distraught while in there. I didn’t know how long I was going to be kept locked up. I was crying all the time, night and day.”

Media contacts:

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International: 028 9064 3000 or 07740 623155
Les Allamby, Law Centre (NI): 028 9024 4401 or 9058 3637 (hm) or 07745 250517

Copies of Measuring Misery, detention of asylum seekers in Northern Ireland: a statistical analysis 2002-2004 are available on request, or can be found online .

Refugee Action Group member organisations: Amnesty International NI
Belfast Islamic Centre
Black Youth Network
Comhlamh NI
Democratic Dialogue
Latinoamerica Unida
Law Centre (NI)
Multi-Cultural Resource Centre
NI Co-op
One World Centre

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