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Operation Gull

Law Centre (NI) Briefing
October 2008

Background

  1. Operation Gull is a joint operation between Garda Síochána, PSNI and the UK Borders and Immigration Agency (BIA).
  2. The operation has been running since at least mid to late 2005.
  3. It targets migrants entering Northern Ireland, on domestic flights from South East England and on boats from Stranraer. Those targeted are questioned and if it is suspected they are entering Northern Ireland with a view to entering the Republic of Ireland illegally or are suspected of another immigration offence they will be detained and removed from Northern Ireland.
  4. Operation Gull runs on an irregular basis. When it is in operation upwards of 50 individuals have been believed to be detained in one weekend. It is impossible to say with certainty how many people have been caught up in Operation Gull but certainly hundreds, if not more.
  5. Operational Gull is carried out at both City and International Airports and at Belfast and Larne Sea Ports.
  6. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is currently undertaking a wide-ranging review of immigration practice in Northern Ireland which will look at the activity of immigration officers in operations including Operation Gull. The report is anticipated to be published in late 2008.

Issues

  1. The speed and secrecy under which Operation Gull is carried out results in individuals being unable to access independent legal advice that would be able to determine whether they have been detained lawfully.
  2. There is no independent, transparent, oversight of Operation Gull.
  3. It is our understanding that the legal basis of the operation has never been formally stated and therefore it has not been tested in law.
  4. Given the secrecy with which the operation is carried out we have no knowledge of the guidelines for its operation, if there are any. Our concern is that individuals are being targeted on grounds of ethnicity/nationality or other discriminatory grounds.
  5. The proposed powers in the Draft Immigration and Citizenship Bill (2008) will only enhance the powers of immigration officers. Proposed measures in the UK borders Agency consultation on Strengthening the Common Travel Area (July 2008) also provide for more Operation Gull type activity by immigration officials.
  6. Immigration officers have been known to stop those not travelling through the Ports targeted by the operation, i.e. stopping someone who is waiting to meet someone at the airport or sea port.
  7. Those questioned by immigration officers on internal flights don’t have to answer questions unless there is a reasonable suspicion that an immigration offence has or is about to be committed. However when asked they often answer and in doing so may give an answer, innocently, which can be interpreted by immigration officers incriminatingly, that is unhelpful to themselves and leads to their detention and removal from Northern Ireland and ultimately the UK. We understand and are concerned, that the individuals are not being told that they do not have to answer these questions.

Goals

  1. Data provided, for the numbers and nationalities of those detained and for how long Operation Gull has been running and how often it is undertaken.
  2. Information provided on how often individuals detained in Operation Gull are held for more than 24 hours in custody suites in Northern Ireland and which suites are used.
  3. Access to independent legal advice for all those detained under Operation Gull while they are still in Northern Ireland.
  4. A clear statement provided of the powers on which the operation is based.
  5. Transparent and independent oversight procedures put in place for the operation by immigration officers of Operation Gull.
  6. To raise the profile of our concerns at assembly, parliamentary and police board levels.
  7. That any recommendations regarding Operation Gull from the NIHRC review are implemented by the UKBA.

Questions

  1. To receive information as to what guidance is given to individuals as to their rights and to find out how often do they get to speak to independent legal advice.
  2. What are the basic statistics for Operation Gull?
    a.  How long has it been running?
    b.  How often are individual operations held?
    c.  How many people have been detained and how many have been removed?
    d.  What are the nationalities of those detained?
    e.  How many officers are involved?
  3. What is the role of PSNI in Operation Gull?
  4. What questions are put to individuals stopped by immigration officers, under Operation Gull?
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