Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland ports: Rise in illegal immigrants intercepted trying to reach other parts of UK

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe BBC has learned that the number of illegal immigrants caught trying to get from Northern Ireland's ports to other parts of the UK has risen significantly.

The number of illegal immigrants intercepted at ports in Northern Ireland trying to reach other parts of the UK has risen significantly in the last three years measured.

Figures from the Home Office show that 468 people were intercepted in 2014/15, including those who crossed the border with the Irish Republic.

This is up 71% up on the 274 total in 2012/13, although the numbers are small compared to the crisis in Calais and the Mediterranean.

In 2014, more than 170,000 migrants arrived in Italy.

A report by the Organised Crime Task Force notes that this year's figures for interceptions in Northern Ireland include 30 convicted criminals who had previously been deported from the UK.

The illegal immigrants were intercepted under Operation Gull, a joint scheme run by Immigration Enforcement, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Police Scotland.

'Air surveillance'

It checks domestic flights and ferries into and out of Northern Ireland to intercept illegal immigrants going to and coming from the Republic of Ireland by way of the land border.

A Home Office source indicated that the rise was due to increased enforcement activity as well as increased migrant movement patterns.

UKIP leader in Northern Ireland, assembly member David McNarry, said that in his view the border with the Republic Of Ireland needed heightened security to tackle the issue.

"I want to see troops made available to assist the police to ensure our border is safe," he said.

Image caption UKIP MLA David McNarry said the border with the Republic of Ireland needed heightened security

He added: "I'm all in favour of the use of helicopters for air surveillance to ensure that that too is a deterrent."

But researcher Dr Orna Young told Good Morning Ulster his comments are unhelpful.

"That image of what we all associated with troops on the border - of fear, of suspicion, I don't think that's a rhetoric we should be using. We need to look at helpful ways... rather than stoking up fear within communities."

Refugee status

Suleiman Abdulahi from the Horn Of Africa People's Aid NI support group said the rise in numbers did not show the use of a "back door" for immigrants seeking to enter Great Britain.

"No matter what they do, there is a collaboration between the Irish and the UK, where if someone has been applying for asylum in Ireland they have to be sent back to Ireland, and if they have applied here, they have to be sent back to the UK. So people cannot have two claims in two countries."

The BBC has also learned that the number of people applying for refugee status in the Republic of Ireland has also risen significantly this year.

Figures from the Republic of Ireland's Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner show that in total 1,448 people applied to be declared as a refugee in 2014.

That figure has already been passed to date this year.

The total to June currently stands at 1,481 people.

More on this story