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An unhappy St. Patrick’s Day for immigrants

UKBA’s secretive Operation Gull targets immigrants on solicitors’ days off 

17 March 2009 St Patrick’s Day should be all about fun and celebration, and is a time of hospitality when we invite and welcome others into our homes.

UKBA has scheduled today, of all days, as well as last weekend, to press on with Operation Gull, the secretive and irregular operation targeting immigrants at the air and sea ports, which the Refugee Action Group (RAG) and others have criticised.

“For the UK Border Agency Saint Patrick’s clearly means to cynically exploit the closure of solicitors offices and deport as many people as possible”, says Anna Morvern, an immigration adviser at Law Centre (NI) and active member of Amnesty International UK, interviewed by Radio Ulster this morning on a piece about the UK Border Agency’s St Patrick’s Day enforcement operations on “Good Morning Ulster”.

Foreigners are stopped and prevented to board ferries on the Northern Ireland border by police officers wearing simple suits.

“If you’re suddenly picked up you find yourself in a vulnerable position and you need legal advice”, says Ms Morvern.

“The fact that this operation is scheduled by UKBA on Saturdays and Sundays blatantly exploits the fact that solicitors’ offices will be closed so people have no access to legal advice and representation. Therefore they won’t have access to justice. Who’s there to know if they had correct paperwork, if they are well-treated in detention”?

The Refugee Action Group and the Law Centre were contacted by Dr Chris Gilligan, a passenger on the Belfast-Stranraer ferry at the weekend, who was very worried about an African woman stopped by immigration before she could board the same ferry.It has not been possible to trace her or to find out what happened to the woman.

How will the women’s friends or relatives know where she is? How she is? How can a witness to deportation enquire about its legality if there is no name to enquire about?

“This is a secretive operation and I’m afraid to say that the evidence that we do have is that there is ill treatment and there are cases of people who had the correct paperwork being unlawfully removed,” say Ms Molvern.

“At the moment they remove somebody from the UK every 8 minutes and they’ve pledged to do it faster.”

UKBA’s response to Radio Ulster was that Operation Gull was designed to maintain the integrity of the Border. By December they will know who is leaving or arriving through the border, but until then, the operation will continue.RAG next meets at Amnesty International’s offices this Thursday at 2 PM and all who wish to support refugees and asylum-seekers are welcome.

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