Drinking dens introduce arrivals to underworld

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The network of Turkish social clubs and cafés dotted throughout Wood Green in north London are the focal point for scores of illegal immigrants being smuggled into Britain.

For the Turkish men and women seeking a better life, but who do not have family in Britain, the unlicensed bars and drinking dens provide a crucial link, according to community leaders.

But Yashar Ismailoglu, the co-ordinator of London's biggest Kurdish and Turkish community and information centre, said they could also introduce economic migrants to London's underworld.

"Some of the people who are smuggled from Turkey come from rural areas, cannot speak English, and have no contacts in Britain. They end up in Hackney or Haringey in the underground cafés and social clubs. Many of these places don't have licences, or toilets, or fire escapes.

"People can end up getting involved in drugs and prostitution. People can end up sleeping rough. They don't have any money - many have spent it all getting into the country." He added that he had heard of cases in which people were "packed into lorries in confined spaces unable to move for hours".

"Some have mental problems," he said. "We have also heard about smugglers who have abandoned people at sea."

Mr Ismailoglu said many ended up working in the hidden economy. "They end up in kebab and coffee shops, or working on building sites. There is an established network among the Turkish and Kurdish community. They go from London to cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Doncaster," he said.

Scotland Yard yesterday released an X-ray image which shows illegal immigrants packed into secret compartments on a lorry. Most of the people smuggled by the gang targeted yesterday are believed to have been hidden on lorries and vans. It is estimated the gang could have made up to £100,000 from a lorry-load of 20 migrants.

Police say the immigrants, most of whom came from eastern Turkey, were charged between £3,000 and £5,000 to be smuggled across mainland Europe to the continent's northern ports. Once there, they waited in safe houses until the time was right for them to be brought into Britain.

Some were taken across the channel in light aircraft to small airfields in Kent and Cambridgeshire. The journey takesseveral weeks. Police said most of the people being smuggled should not be considered "victims" as they co-operated with the gang, and most were coming to Britain to live illegally with family and friends who were legitimately living in this country. They said there was no evidence to suggest that violence was used by the gang members against the immigrants.