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Sunday, 31 October 2010

Northern Ireland’s first detention centre given the green light (BNP, UK)

Yesterday a meeting was held between the UK Border Agency, the Planning Service and Larne Borough Council to discuss the matter after concerns were raised over the impact the facility could have on Larne.

Immigration officials want to convert Hope Street police station into a short-term holding centre capable of housing up to 22 detainees.

Under the initial plans the existing custody suites would be used to hold adults and an extension would be built at the back of the site for showering, catering and exercise facilities.

But the proposals — which have already been approved by the Planning Service — have angered some residents as well as human rights activists.

The plans have also raised opposition from the far-right British National Party (BNP) which printed leaflets claiming Larne had been “earmarked as a dumping ground for illegal immigrants and bogus asylum seekers”.

Currently, any person who is detained under immigration powers can be held for a maximum of seven days, however there are no facilities to hold suspected illegal immigrants in Northern Ireland.

Instead they are arrested then held in police cells before being transferred to official detention centres in Scotland and England.

That practice was heavily criticised in a Criminal Justice Inspectorate report last year which found that some failed asylum seekers had been held in police cells for up to five days.

The UK Border Agency was given until September to find alternative arrangements.

The Hope Street police station was identified as the preferred site.

Larne mayor Andrew Wilson explained the plans were presented to council last month but were deferred to allow for yesterday’s meeting.

He said those matters have now been addressed.

“A number of concerns had been raised regarding the height of the fencing, the use of razor wire and the extra lighting. Those issues are now being addressed,” he said.

It is understood the height of the fencing will be reduced from 5.1m to 4.2m and light pollution will be reduced. The Refugee Action Group is unhappy with the plans. The coalition of non-governmental organisations and refugees fear individuals could be detained at the centre for weeks.

Authorities can only hold a person detained under immigration powers for a week, but if they are arrested on criminal matters such as an immigration offence they could be held indefinitely.

A spokeswoman from the group said: “The Refugee Action Group feels very strongly that there is no need to detain any individual in Northern Ireland in connection with their immigration status.

“We oppose the criminalisation of asylum seekers and don’t think they should be segregated from the rest of society.”

The Belfast Telegraph contacted the UK Border Agency to clarify the plans but it did not provide a response.

It is understood the amended plans will be presented to Larne Borough Council in December.

Belfast Telegraph