An article written in 2023 following an address to Belfast City Council by Faith Groups For Reproductive Justice and End Deportations Belfast.
So firstly, what is Larne House?
Larne House is an immigration detention centre called a Short-Term Holding Facility (STHF), 22 miles from Belfast, located in former holding cells within PSNI Larne. From Larne House a person can be released with legal intervention, transferred to indefinite detention in centres in England and Scotland or deported. Around 5000 people have been incarcerated here since it opened in 2011 with men and women detained together in the same facility despite Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons repeatedly advising the Home Office and the centre operators, Mitie, to cease this practice.
Detention Action refer to STHFs, like Larne House, as the “darker, harsher, less regulated and more secretive corner of our detention system”.
In the 2015 Immigration Bill debate, DUP MP Gavin Robinson raised the issue of Larne House in the House of Commons saying:
“Anyone with any knowledge of security arrangements in Northern Ireland will know that the police stations there are not the most welcoming or inviting places. That is a consequence of our history. Anyone who is detained for immigration reasons in Northern Ireland is held there [in Larne House], in what looks like a military compound, with sangars, high fences, security lighting and security cameras. It is not an acceptable place”.
At EDB, we call for the implementation of Alternatives To Detention in NI and we call for the use of Larne House to be ceased.
According to the UK Home Office, immigration detention is only used to facilitate a person’s removal from the UK, immediately prior to a deportation. The reality is different. In year end March 2022, 25282 people entered immigration detention across the UK. 86% of people were returned to the community with only 14% of people removed from the UK. 86% of people then – their detention having served no purpose at all.
Not only this but some people are held long-term. The UK is the only country in Europe without an immigration detention limit. The longest serving man had been detained for 1391 days according to Home Office 2022 statistics. At a cost of £107.23 per day, per person, the total cost was £135k to detain this man.
Community-based Alternatives To Detention (ATDs) exist. Action Foundation’s ATD pilot ran in conjunction with the UK Home Office for two years in Newcastle upon Tyne. The 20 women involved in the pilot had been in imminent danger of deportation with most having been in detention.
The women were provided with caseworkers, legal counsel and accommodation. The results were positive. It was half the cost of detention and a fairer and more humane system with better health outcomes for participants and no decreased compliance on immigration rules.
The Kings Arms Project in Bedford is a second ATD scheme, this time involving 75 participants. ATDs work.
Law Centre NI reported to the House of Commons in 2018 that Alternatives To Detention had never been properly explored or utilised in Northern Ireland and it seems to us that especially because of Northern Ireland’s unique geography that it is an ideal region for the implementation of ATDs.
Make no mistake, Larne House is not a safe place, through FOI we know that:
– 8 pregnant were women detained there between 2016 – 2022
– At least 49 people with disclosed disabilities held there between 2018 – 2022
In Larne House there is entirely inadequate healthcare access and hindered access to immigration lawyers.
Following the discovery that between June 2016 and June 2022, 8 pregnant women were held in Larne House, End Deportations Belfast made contact with three Reproductive Justice groups, Faith Voices For Reproductive Justice, Alliance For Choice and Alliance For Choice Derry.
Reproductive Justice means a society where the reproductive health and rights of women and pregnant people are fully available to all without discrimination. It includes the right to a safe pregnancy, to give birth with dignity, to have equal access to maternity healthcare, to have babies born into safe environments.
Like us, Reproductive Justice groups didn’t consider it acceptable that pregnant people can be taken into detention in Larne House purely on the basis of their immigration status being questioned.
The Royal College of Midwives has said that immigration detention disrupts care and places additional stress upon mothers. Many of whom have complex healthcare needs that the staff in detention centres are not equipped to deal with.
Once detained in Larne House, a pregnant woman is cut off from her support network and she drops out of all statutory healthcare services – GP, community midwives, hospital appointments, cut off from all of it.
The healthcare she receives in Larne House is access to a privately hired nurse provided by the private company Mite who operate the facility on behalf of the Home Office. There is also a chance that she will be taken from Larne House to an immigration removal centre in England or Scotland where she faces a fight against deportation.
We know that many people who are released from immigration detention in England and Scotland are then left with no arrangements made to get them back to Northern Ireland to their friends and family. This should not be happening.
To subject pregnant people to risks to them and their babies is not acceptable.
When the Reproductive Justice groups launched a campaign calling for no more pregnant women in Larne House in November 2022, it turned out a lot of people agreed with them. Hundreds of organisations and individuals signed the letter, including 9 MPs, 45 MLAs and 44 councillors and the entire trade union movement on the island, both ICTU and NIC-ICTU.
There is clear consensus that this treatment of marginalized people here on our soil is not what we want. Belfast officially became a City of Sanctuary in April of last year and yet pregnant migrants and asylum seekers living in our city could find themselves subject to this dehumanising treatment.
The Home Office’s own guidance says that pregnant women should only be detained in exceptional circumstances, when all other alternatives have been exhausted. How can that be true for those 8 women in Larne House when there are no current systems of alternatives operating here at all?
If someone arrives in Northern Ireland while pregnant or if they are living here and are detained during the course of their pregnancy, there should be a system in place that allows them to stay in the community, connected to maternity healthcare services that can provide the best outcome for them and their baby. It is important to remember that black and minority ethnic women experience higher levels of perinatal mortality in the UK than white women, and that stillbirth rates are significantly higher for migrant women than for the general population.
As a society we should be doing everything we can to care for these people, not putting them in harm’s way in a detention centre because we haven’t done the work to develop alternatives.
Earlier this year when Belfast Telegraph covered the campaign, the Home Office stated that the 72 hour detention limit on the detention of pregnant women applied to Larne House. MP Stephen Farry asked a follow up Parliamentary which then confirmed that a minister could extend this detention to a week in total. The Royal College of Midwives call for an outright ban on the detention of pregant women and so do we.
1. End the detention of pregnant women immediately.
2. Implement community-based Alternatives To Detention now.
3. End the use of Larne House for once and for all.
Faith Voices For Reproductive Justice:
Alliance For Choice:
Alliance For Choice Derry:
Royal College of Midwives on the detention of pregnant women.
Medical Justice on the detention of pregnant women.
Report on Action Foundation’s Alternatives To Detention pilot.
Stephen Farry Parliamentary question.