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Belfast: Pattern of immigration checks raises profiling concerns

Data obtained by Al Jazeera shows many who are stopped hold Romanian, Nigerian, Chinese and Pakistani passports, but few are arrested.

The high rate and pattern of immigration enforcement operations in Northern Ireland’s capital, revealed following the release of new data obtained by Al Jazeera, have raised concerns related to possible racial profiling and the effect of Brexit.

Data from the Home Office, following a Freedom of Information request, covering almost 10 years shows that Belfast had a higher rate of Immigration Enforcement checks when compared with 11 top UK cities, including London, Birmingham, and Glasgow.

The top five nationalities stopped in Belfast were Romanian, Nigerian, Chinese, Pakistani, and British, together counting for more than 40 percent of all stops.

While British people cannot be immigration offenders given Northern Ireland is within the United Kingdom, they can be stopped as part of efforts to crack down on criminal suspects.

The average overall rate of arrest was 32 percent, a level some said casts doubt on official claims that such operations are intelligence-led.

Claire Hanna of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) said there was “at least a perception of racial profiling, rather than intelligence, driving a high proportion of immigration checks”.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, she said: “This is likely to get worse when the UK start to roll out their tighter immigration frameworks.

“The quantity, and low success rate, of immigration checks needs to be accounted for.”

The South Belfast MP said the approach of the UK’s Home Office was “out of step with the needs of the economy on the island of Ireland, and of our more outward-looking approach to immigration”.

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