Stepping out for migrant solidarity

A migrant solidarity walk will take place next week.
A migrant solidarity walk will take place next week.

Local walkers are setting off from Northern Ireland’s sole immigration centre, Larne House, this month to raise awareness over conditions in UK detention centres.

Their Refugee and Migrant Solidarity Walk, which covers 26 miles in two days, will see the hikers make their way to Belfast via Carrickfergus, stopping at the Harbour Faith Community, Carrickfergus on June 30 and ending at Lawrence Street Workshops in Belfast on July 1.

At each stop there will be an evening event, where members of the public are welcome to join for food, films, fun, music and reflection. The walk, which comes during Refugee Awareness month, has been organised by a group of friends who want to raise awareness over detention centres and the work of the local Larne House Visitor Group, with similar walks underway in both France and England.

Liz Griffith of Larne House Visitors’ Group said: “Every year tens of thousands of people, including children, are locked up in prison-like conditions in the UK without a time limit, limited judicial oversight, inadequate access to legal advice and healthcare. Their only crime: being migrants or asylum seekers.”

Miriam Turley, one of the group’s organisers said: “By organising this walk, we’re not only raising awareness and drawing attention to the experiences of people held in detention centres - but it’s also an opportunity to spend two days walking and talking with like-minded people.”

Larne House, Northern Ireland’s very own Immigration Detention Centre, is classified as a Short Term Holding Facility (STHF) which means people here are held for a maximum of seven days before either being transferred to one of several Detention Centres (or IRCs) in Great Britain, deported or released.

For more information, contact Miriam Turley larnehousesolidaritywalk@gmail.com, 07725699442

Larne House visitors Group is also currently welcoming new volunteers. For more information, please contact: info@larnehousevisitorgroup.org.uk

The facility, situated at the back of Larne Police Station, is run by a profit-making private company. Making use of the former prison cells of the police station, up to 19 people can be detained.

Speaking about the facility, Liz said: “A large number of detainees suffer extreme isolation as they know no-one in the UK and know little of the law or their rights and entitlements. Because of their experiences at home, many are already traumatised and now find themselves detained, with no release date and with the prospect of being forcibly returned.

Ironically, the address for Larne House is Hope Street.”

A vital lifeline to many of its detainees is Larne House Visitor Group; an independent volunteer group that visits immigration detainees in the holding centre. The group offers non-judgemental support and understanding to the outside world when people feel the most isolated, distressed and hopeless. Volunteers can explain options and suggest relevant bodies to contact. Support can be more practical as well, simple things like securing a detainee’s personal belongings, or topping up their mobile phone (essential for staying in touch with family).

“Because we are absolutely independent, the detainee often trusts us with information they may not have revealed to anyone else”, one volunteer explains. “This then enables us to pick up further issues like signs that the detainee may have been trafficked, or mental health concerns. Our volunteer visitors are frequently the only friendly faces people see who are not connected to the immigration service. They are therefore a vital source of reassurance, comfort and help.”

Larne House Visitors’ Group is a member of the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees. Heiko Topp who coordinates the group says; “People enter immigration detention in Larne and then face the prospect of indefinite detention when transferred to GB. The Home Office consistently ignores its own guidelines and detains pregnant women, children and survivors of torture. The UK is the only country in the European Union which does not have a time limit on depriving people of their freedom. It is good if this walk can raise awareness of the role Larne House plays in this system.”

To find out more about the Refugee and Migrant Solidarity Walk, or to join in for one, or both days of the walk, visit the event page: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/solidarity-walk-for-refugees-and-migrants-in-detention-tickets-46230201778. Organisers ask for a small donation towards the cost of dinner and accommodation. The group will be asking supporters who can’t walk to donate money to two charities: Phone Credit for Refugees and Larne House Visitor’s Group.