For people of colour, a hard Irish border already exists and Brexit will make it worse

Racial profiling on buses between Belfast and Dublin is common

The Westminster cronies are continuing to play pingpong with the Irish border issue, yet the reality for many here is that a hard border already exists.

Every day In Ireland, people crossing the border on buses, cars, planes and trains are targeted because of the colour of their skin.

Border forces in the North and the Republic are using racial profiling to target migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and hand them over to immigration authorities for indefinite detention and potential deportation, without a trial and little access to legal support.

Boarding Buses for Border Control

The UK’s 1971 Immigration Act prohibits passport controls within the Common Travel Area (CTA) between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

However, every day checks are being carried out on buses between Belfast and Dublin which target people on the basis of skin colour (and other ethnic indicators).

A Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission report shows that people with legal residency are also being stopped, detained and questioned for several hours. Such discrimination breaks UK law and international treaty law prohibiting discrimination.

Misuse of Terrorism Laws

The authorities used counter terrorism laws to stop people in the CTA more than 12,000 times in 2013-2016.

None were detained for counter terrorism purposes, they were handed over to immigration authorities : thereby using misusing terrorism laws as immigration checks.

Racial profiling in the Common Travel Area is set to intensify with Brexit. The UK Government’s new Counter Terrorism and Security Bill will extend the Home Office’s power to deny human rights under the pretence of protecting the state. Handing people over to immigration authorities often ends in people being remanded in detention.

Northern Ireland’s Hidden Detention Centre

Larne House is a ‘short-term holding centre’ run by a private security company Mitie. People are detained for a maximum of seven days before being transferred to another Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in Scotland or England.

When someone is moved from Larne House to an IRC elsewhere in the UK, it is very expensive for their family, living in the Republic or Northern Ireland, to visit the person held. Often, on release these people travel back to Ireland.

People can be held in the UK’s IRCs for an unlimited amount of time. The UK is the only European Union country with indefinite detention. People do not know how long they will be detained for or what will happen afterwards. People including mothers and children (and even a baby) are detained for up to two years.

Why Deportations are wrong

  • Disregard of human rights: The private companies who operate the detention centres have been criticised for the inhumane conditions detainees are kept in.
  • A number of recent reports have revealed that indefinite detention seriously damages people’s mental health, with suicide attempts rising dramatically.   
  • Deportations are violent: In 2015 Jimmy Mubenga was killed by G4S guards on a British Airways flight to Angola.
  • There were over 300 deaths of people seeking aslym between 2013-2018, inclusive of those set for removal.  
  • Amongst others, the lives of LGBT+ people are regularly endangered by deportation by returning them to countries where being LGBT+ is illegal.
  • Deportations are part of the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, yet even by their standards, deportation as a deterrent doesn’t work.
  • Detention and deportations are expensive. It costs the Government over £96 per day to hold someone in detention (three times as much as it costs to house someone seeking asylum), and the cost of deporting someone is over £5000 per person.

Emer Morris and Louise McGowen are Activists and Human Rights Law and Social Justice post graduate researchers, and members of End Deportations Belfast.

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