EU detentions in NI hit record in Brexit year
A record number of citizens from EU states were detained on immigration grounds and deported from Northern Ireland in 2016, the year of the Brexit referendum.
The Home Office figures were obtained by investigative website The Detail .
The figures show that 161 EU nationals were detained at Larne House in 2016.
Larne house opened in 2011 and is Northern Ireland's only immigration detention centre.
Official estimates show that between 2012 and 2016 the EU population in Northern Ireland increased by almost 25%.
There were ten times as many people from EU countries detained in Larne house in 2016 compared to the number detained in 2012.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said the 2016 spike in EU detentions in Northern Ireland was not Brexit related and stemmed from a rise in EU nationals with criminal records being intercepted on sea and air routes into Northern Ireland.
The Home Office figures analysed by The Detail relate to people detained from the 27 EU member states and exclude UK nationals.
The number of EU nationals detained at the holding centre in 2016 was the highest on record since it opened.
Only 15 EU nationals were detained in 2012 - the first full year for which immigration detention data for Larne House is available.
The Detail reported that proportion of EU citizens detained at Larne House rose from one in 12 of all individuals detained in 2014 to one in four in 2016.
Home Office figures also show that the majority (77%) of EU nationals detained in Northern Ireland between 2011 and mid-2018 came from three member states in Eastern Europe, namely Romania, Lithuania and Poland.
Since July 2011 more than 4,000 people from across the globe have been detained at Larne House, which is located around 20 miles north of Belfast.
The immigration detention facility can hold individuals for up to seven days before they are transferred to long term detention centres in Scotland or England and are then deported, released on bail, or permitted to remain in the UK.
The analysis of Home Office data by The Detail shows that between July 2011 and June 2018 more than 520 EU nationals were detained at Larne House.
While numbers have since fallen off (114 in 2017 and 69 in first half of 2018), official figures show a growing proportion of EU nationals being detained in recent years.
Across the UK, detention rates have increased five-fold since the now prime minister, Theresa May, took the helm of the Home Office in 2010. The detention of EU citizens across the UK increased from 1,013 in 2010 to 5,319 in 2017.
In 2015 the Conservative Party made a pre-election commitment to hold an in-out referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017.
The result of the EU referendum in June 2016 was 51.9% for Leave and 48.1% for Remain.
The significant increase in the detention and deportation of EU citizens in 2016 coincided with a UK government pledge to clamp down on immigration as part of its Brexit campaign. Immigration control and enforcement is not a devolved matter.
A charity organisation advocating for an end to immigration detention in the UK, Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID UK), expressed concern over the rising trend in the detention of EU nationals in Northern Ireland around the time of the Brexit vote.
BID UK director, Celia Clarke, said: "It's deeply disturbing that EEA (European Economic Area) nationals are being detained in such large numbers and that this seems to have increased since the vote to leave the EU."
A spokesperson for the Home Office told The Detail: "The 73% increase in EU citizens detained in Northern Ireland in 2016 is largely down to a corresponding rise (71%) that year in the number of foreign national criminals intercepted by Immigration Enforcement attempting to abuse the Common Travel Area (CTA) to avoid detection at a UK port. Brexit had no bearing whatsoever on the increase."
The most recent data available shows that 69 people were detained in Larne House in the first six months of 2018. Again, one in every four detained was an EU national.
The Home Office also confirmed to The Detail that 92% of citizens from the 27 EU member states detained at Larne House in 2016 were subsequently deported.