Immigration raid impacted Belfast business

Owners of Havana Bank Square have hit out at the Home Office for a raid that they say damaged the reputation of their business. Picture by Hugh Russell.

Owners of a popular Belfast restaurant have hit out at the Home Office after an immigration enforcement case was withdrawn.

Accompanied by the PSNI, Home Office immigration officers raided the premises of Havana Bank Square in April of this year and arrested a kitchen porter from the restaurant.

The man, who had been hired a few weeks previously, had provided management with an Italian passport under the name of Mario Geimini.

The 22-year-old's actual name was Abdullah Gjonaj, an Albanian national who had family living in Belfast.

He was deported back to Albania and the owners of Havana were told they would have to pay a £12,000 'illegal working civil penalty'.

The case was later withdrawn after the restaurant were able to show they had asked for appropriate identification and carried out necessary and required checks before hiring the worker, whom they believed to be an EU citizen and therefore entitled to work legally in Northern Ireland.

Patrick Magee, one of the owners of Havana Bank Square, said that the raid caused damage to the reputation of the locally owned business.

"We've always prided ourselves on being responsible employers", he said.

"Our manager carried out all the relevant checks, photocopied the employee's passport, he had perfect English, was a great worker, liked by everyone and never gave us any cause for concern.

"From the start the entire episode was badly handled; the PSNI and Home Office arrived during a busy evening service in front of our customers.

"We are a locally owned business, providing employment and we also operate in a socially conscience way, and strive to treat all our staff fairly," Mr Magee said

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: "The person found working at Havana Bank Square was in the UK illegally with no right to work. The decision not to proceed with the civil penalty was conceded only after a full investigation and Havana Bank Square agreed to pay the Home Office costs for the investigation.

"All Immigration Enforcement visits are intelligence led".

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