Lorries to be seized in move on refugees

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The Independent Online
TOUGH NEW action against lorry firms to crack down on illegal immigration was announced yesterday by the Government, sparking outrage in the industry, which described it as "gesture politics" that would harm innocent truckers.

The Home Office minister Mike O'Brien said lorries could be impounded if they were carrying immigrants into the UK. Vehicles would not be released until the driver or owner paid, or proved they could pay within a reasonable time, the pounds 2,000 fine the Government plans to impose for each illegal immigrant they carry.

Mr O'Brien said: "An estimated 8,000 illegal immigrants have come into the country in the back of lorries during the year. It must stop. We asked drivers to check loads and they have not all done so. This is why we need a tough new regime."

He said one container had been found with 100 people in the back."Some lorry drivers claim not to know when they have people aboard. But when the authorities here make that discovery it will be too late. A penalty of pounds 2,000 per illegal immigrant will be imposed." Vehicles and drivers registered abroad would not be exempt.

Mr O'Brien said the Home Office was still in talks with the haulage industry about implementation, including ways to help responsible drivers.

A spokesman for the Road Haulage Association said: "It is an absolutely amazing announcement. At precisely the time the Government has dropped legislation targeting cowboy hauliers and the dangerous 'death trucks' they operate, because of a lack of parliamentary time, it is prepared to target hauliers innocently bringing stowaways into the country. Somebody in the Government has a rather perverse sense of priorities."

Geoff Dossetter, of the Freight Transport Association, said: "This scheme won't make a scrap of difference to what's undoubtedly a serious problem. We get the feeling this is a bit of gesture politics by the Home Office because the minister has to be seen to be doing something. It is preposterous, ludicrous and crackpot."

The crackdown was announced as the Archbishop of Canterbury triggered a debate about Britain's treatment of refugees by using his New Year message to call for tolerance for those seeking asylum.

The Government defended its immigration policies after Dr George Carey's comments, in which he pointed out that Jesus was "history's most well- known refugee". Mr O'Brien called for a "less emotional" debate about asylum than the current outcry. He said there should be a "balanced and consensus approach to restoring integrity to the system" with help for genuine refugees and a tough policy on those abusing asylum.

Dr Carey conceded that the presence of strangers in their community could make people "nervous or even angry", while some "instinctively think of refugees as 'scroungers"'. But refugees fleeing persecution and war would only reluctantly have left their homelands.

The Archbishop said: "My hope is that our country, which has had a great tradition of hospitality to the stranger, will continue to be as open and generous as possible."