Fines cut 'people smuggling' at ports by half

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The Independent Online

The number of people being smuggled into Britain in cars and lorries has been cut by almost half since the introduction of fines for drivers found carrying illegal immigrants.

The number of people being smuggled into Britain in cars and lorries has been cut by almost half since the introduction of fines for drivers found carrying illegal immigrants.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said yesterday that penalties of £2,000 per illegal entrant had reduced human trafficking at Channel ports by 42 per cent in the space of a year. Mr Straw said that the number of "clandestine entrants" found in vehicles at ports had fallen from 3,908 in the first three months of last year to 2,271 in the same period this year.

He said that since the fines system was introduced, in April last year, 837 penalty notices had been issued to vehicle owners found carrying 4,666 illegal entrants. Authorities have so far collected only £1.1m of the £9.3m fines imposed and 202 cases are the subject of legal disputes. The vehicles of 209 drivers have been seized.

Mr Straw said: "The purpose of the civil penalty is to encourage hauliers and others to improve security. It has done so. Drivers are taking better precautions to prevent their vehicles being used to smuggle people into the country."

The reduction in illegal entrants is partly due to the introduction of carbon-dioxide testing of vehicles by officials in Calais and checks carried out by staff on board P&O Stena Line ferries.

Haulage companies and rail freight operators have complained that they are unfairly penalised by the fines system, with asylum-seekers resorting to desperate measures to gain access to Britain.

The Refugee Council and Oxfam yesterday called for an end to the voucher-based subsistence system introduced for asylum-seekers last year. The council said that the value of the vouchers, which amount to less than 70 per cent of income support, had not been increased in line with changes to benefit payments that came into effect this week. Vouchers received by an asylum-seeking couple will remain at £57.37 instead of increasing by 91p to £58.28 in line with changes to income support.

Nick Hardwick, the council's chief executive, said the voucher system prevented 35,000 asylum-seekers from shopping cheaply at markets and they were unable to afford "essential items" such as baby milk, shoes and nappies.

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