Visitor subjected to racist nightmare
Visitor subjected to racist nightmare

An engineer falsely accused of being an illegal immigrant while holidaying in the North of Ireland was arrested and imprisoned purely because of his race, the Equality Commission said this week.

Frank Kakopa received 7,500 pounds sterling compensation and apologies from the British immigration service after he was detained at Belfast City airport in August 2005 and sent to Maghaberry prison for two days.

Mr Kakopa, who is originally from Zimbabwe, was on a short break with his wife and young children in 2005 when he was stopped at the airport. Despite showing documentation that he lived and worked legally in England, he was taken to the high-security prison outside Belfast. He was strip-searched and held for two days in the jail despite calls from his boss in England confirming his legal residency and terms of employment.

Mr Kakopa, a structural engineer, said his family were left at the airport and he had no idea what had happened to them.

“They wouldn’t allow me to make phone calls - I was actually detached from the world. I did not know where my kids were taken to. It is still difficult to believe what was supposed to be a relaxing break for my family turned out to be our worst nightmare.

“I was locked up with convicted criminals, having committed no crime, while my wife and young children were left abandoned at the airport of a strange country worrying about where I was and how I was being treated,” he said.

The North’s Equality Commission took on Mr Kakopa’s case, alleging false imprisonment and discrimination. Eileen Lavery, from the commission, said: “He had an enormous amount of documentation. Why pick on him? Other than I think because he is black.”

In an out of court settlement the immigration service admitted false imprisonment and apologised to Mr Kakopa and his family. It also agreed to discuss its practices with the Equality Commission.

Ms Lo, the Alliance party assembly member for South Belfast, said: “I know immigration officers are only doing their job but there is a creeping paranoia which is resulting in racist and xenophobic attitudes to foreign people coming into this place.”

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