Page last updated at 20:33 GMT, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Illegal immigrant centre opened

Jacqui Smith at Brook House
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith opened the Brook House detention centre

A removal centre for illegal immigrants and foreign criminals has been opened in West Sussex.

Brook House, near Gatwick airport, is the largest facility of its kind in the UK, and will house up to 426 people.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who opened the unit on Wednesday, said the centre would help the government keep Britain's borders secure.

In April 2007, protesters demonstrating against the centre called for an end to holding asylum seekers in secure units.

And in September of that year, about 300 protesters set up camp in a field in Balcombe, West Sussex, to oppose the new facility.

The protesters represented No Borders, which opposes all immigration controls and believes "administrative detention" is a violation of human rights.

But speaking at the launch, Ms Smith said: "A very important part of our work to keep our borders secure is to make sure that we can remove from the country people who do not have the right to be here."

She added that 5,000 foreign criminals were deported in 2008 and she hoped numbers would increase in 2009.

"Whether you're a visa over-stayer, a foreign criminal, or a failed asylum seeker, the UK Border Agency is determined to track you down and remove you from Britain," she continued.

Brook House is situated next to Tinsley House, a 136-bed detention centre of the same kind.

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