Northern Ireland: New immigration detention emergency helpline launched

The Refugee Action Group (RAG), of which Amnesty International is a member, has announced the launch of an Immigration Detention Emergency Helpline in Northern Ireland. The move coincides with Refugee Week, a week-long celebration of the contribution made by refugees to society here.

Any person who is stopped and detained by Immigration Officers in Northern Ireland can now call the free and confidential Helpline number. A trained volunteer will notify the detainee’s family where possible and will contact an Immigration Adviser who may be able to assist the detainee in challenging her/his detention.

Several NGOs and voluntary sector organisations, including Amnesty International and the Law Centre (NI), welcomed the launch of the Helpline which will provide an invaluable service to detainees.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, said: “For some years, Amnesty International has been concerned that asylum seekers and others taken into immigration detention in Northern Ireland can find themselves isolated and without adequate access to legal support. This helpline is a way in which people, who find themselves locked up in this way, can make one phone call and get help in having their rights defended.”

People may be at risk when travelling between Northern Ireland and GB or between the Republic of Ireland and GB. They may be stopped and detained at one of Northern Ireland’s sea or airports or when travelling across the land border. It is not only immigrants who are at risk; non-white British and Irish people have also been detained.

The process of immigration detention can be extremely frightening and disorientating. People may find themselves detained in Northern Ireland and then quickly transported to detention centres in GB. Uprooted from their home, family and support networks, detainees may find it extremely difficult to obtain help.

“The UK Border Agency has long run Operation Gull at weekends and over Bank Holidays detaining people who are travelling through airports and seaports. This makes it difficult for people to get legal advice and we are delighted to be able to support this service,” said Les Allamby, Director of Law Centre (NI).

Northern Ireland communities may remember the case of Comfort Adefowoju, a Nigerian woman with a young family, who was taken from East Belfast in November 2008 to an immigration detention centre in GB. Despite substantial support from her community, cross-party support from Northern Ireland Assembly and evidence that she might be at risk if returned, Comfort and her Children's rights were deported to Nigeria.

Paul Kazadi, Chair of RAG, states: “People should not be frightened to travel around the UK as we all have the right to move freely. We are aware of instances where people have been detained and sent to detention centres despite having lawful status. People must be able to seek assistance to prevent this from happening.”

The Helpline number is 0800 8400 495 and is available outside office hours, weekends and holidays. Any person at risk of detention should make a note of the Helpline number. However, RAG also urges members of the public to also ring the Helpline if they witness a person being detained by Immigration Officers. Northern Ireland is a democratic society: it is essential that human rights are fully respected and that every individual – regardless of their immigration status – can travel without fear and can gain assistance if detained.

RAG is an independent coalition advocating on asylum and refugee issues in Northern Ireland.

For more information see www.refugeeactiongroup.com

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