Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Number of people stopped at the Northern Ireland land border and removed from the State is rising

Gardaí say that the passport checks at the border are to fight organised crime, but NGOs say they’re more like immigration controls.

THE NUMBER OF people stopped at the Northern Ireland land border and removed from the State is rising, garda figures show.

Data released exclusively to shows that there were 105 immigration offences detected near the border last year, but 140 in 2019 to date.

The Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, said that passport checks at the border are “directed towards organised crime”, but NGOs say that they look more like “routine immigration controls”.

The figures cover “detections in respect of immigration-type offences” by gardaí checking southbound buses on the N1 road. 

The trend backs up anecdotal evidence from travellers and NGOs, who say that patrols had fallen off but have been stepped up recently.

Doireann Ansbro, senior research and policy officer at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, said that the figures “seem to confirm what we and our colleagues at CAJ [the Committee on the Administration of Justice] have reported: that there are more immigration checks being carried out along the border than before”.

A spokesperson for the gardaí said that the figures represent “the number of persons who were refused leave to land, and removed from the state” by a Dundalk-based mobile patrol unit.

The Garda Commissioner has denied that there has been any change in policy on land border immigration checks.

Speaking to the Oireachtas Justice Committee last week, Harris said that “there is not a concentration of enforcement activity in respect of the common travel area and the border. This is just part of our ongoing efforts in respect of immigration crime”.

He added that the number of detections by the Dundalk unit were “far overshadowed” by immigration operations at the ports and airports at Dublin and Cork.

The Belfast-based Committee on the Administration of Justice and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties have raised fears that the checks are being carried out with no legal basis and that passengers are being racially profiled.

Asked about the NGOs’ concern by Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, Harris said that the border checks were in response to “organised crime and the movement of individuals under coercion as human trafficking”.

Úna Boyd of the Committee on the Administration of Justice told that “while the Gardaí have indicated that checks on cross-border busses are influenced by concerns over human trafficking and organised crime, evidence indicates that the checks taking place are routine immigration controls rather than intelligence-led operations”.

Boyd said that “these figures do not tell us the number of people wrongly required to provide documentation, questioned or even removed from busses on the basis of an unlawful and discriminatory practice”.

Under the Immigration Act 2004, journeys within the common travel area are passport-free for British and Irish citizens, but non-nationals are required to produce a passport.

Harris said that “the common travel area, for all its strengths, also creates an opportunity for organised crime”.

“We are therefore obliged to police that and to do our utmost to ensure we are not subject to criminal gangs moving people illegally through this jurisdiction and, in effect, into Northern Ireland to get access then into the UK, or the reverse”.

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