Officials were alerted to Jamaica flight

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The Independent Online
IMMIGRATION officials who detained more than half the people on a Christmas charter flight from Jamaica were acting after 31 travellers on a previous flight had been refused entry to Britain.

The first flight landed at Gatwick on 15 December and 100 of the 353 passengers on board were detained, some for more than 24 hours; 31 were refused entry.

On Tuesday 190 people out of the 323 on board the second flight from Kingston were held when they arrived at Gatwick. Immigration officials had been briefed to question the passengers closely following the incident six days earlier. Extra staff were on duty to cope with the workload.

Yesterday 27 from the second flight, organised by the Caribbean Gold travel agency, were still in detention while arrangements are made to fly them home with a further 25 passengers temporarily admitted to Britain. Two have already returned to Jamaica, and 52 others have been allowed to stay pending further inquiries.

The Home Office has said the immigration service was told before the second flight arrived that there might be people travelling who would not qualify for entry.

The apparent clampdown has prompted immigration rights workers to fear that the Government could be preparing to introduce visa requirements for Jamaican citizens. Under new restrictions being considered, other Caribbean nationals will require visas to enter European Union countries but Jamaicans will not.

Sue Shutter, information and training worker with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said the situation was reminiscent of the mid-1980s, when an increased number of visitors from the Indian sub-continent were refused permission to enter Britain prior to the introduction of visas for citizens of the region in 1986.

Rules applied to all visitors to Britain other than UK or EU passport holders say they must be able to convince immigration officials that they or their relatives will fund their visits, or that they will return to their home country afterwards.

A Home Office spokeswoman said several passengers from the Caribbean Gold flight had not been able to satisfy those criteria. She denied staff had been over-zealous in applying the rules, but confirmed four passengers had been strip-searched.

Charles Wardle, Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, said yesterday that some of the detainees had said they planned to settle in Britain without permission. They had acquired new passports to replace ones bearing stamps showing the holder had been refused permission to enter the UK, or had the 'wrong names' for the people they were due to stay with.

Labour's immigration spokesman, Graham Allen, has written to the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, demanding a full investigation into the incident.