Shamim Chowdury: I know why our border controls are so ineffective

Neither party is remotely concerned about the daily grind involved in manning the entry points

Share

Charles Clarke's latest immigration reform plans are, at least in part, a response to Michael Howard's pledge to tighten up a system that he would like us to believe has spiralled out of control under Labour. But while Tony Blair rightly observed two weeks ago that Tory proposals are unworkable, his own party's plans share the same fundamental flaws.

Charles Clarke's latest immigration reform plans are, at least in part, a response to Michael Howard's pledge to tighten up a system that he would like us to believe has spiralled out of control under Labour. But while Tony Blair rightly observed two weeks ago that Tory proposals are unworkable, his own party's plans share the same fundamental flaws.

Although both of these political leaders are well versed in the moral and economic concerns surrounding the issue of immigration and asylum, they are safe in the knowledge that the public is blissfully ignorant of the logistical nightmare that is the reality of the service; thus they need never explain exactly how their promises will be put into practice. But having worked as an immigration officer for five years under both parties, it is my abiding belief that immigration control will continue to be ineffective, regardless of who is in power.

It is clear to me that both Mr Clarke's and Mr Howard's plans are unfeasible. The Tory leader spoke of cutting the numbers of frontline staff in favour of processing more applications overseas. But Heathrow Terminal 3, where I was based, was - and still is - seriously short-staffed. Pressure to process passengers and ease the massive queues was often so great, we had little choice but to grant admission on the basis of a few cursory questions.

At the moment, Terminal 3 is almost 20 per cent below its full complement of immigration officers and 40 per cent under its quota of chief immigration officers. Budgetary constraints dictate that there can be no replacements. This has been the case for at least the past 12 years. If the numbers were cut further, travellers would even be more likely to slip through the net, as effective decisions cannot be taken by immigration officers who are overworked and under pressure. Mr Clarke made no mention yesterday of addressing these crippling staff shortages.

Mr Howard claims that the solution is to process applications overseas, but the service spends around £100,000 a year to keep an officer abroad, most of the money going on accommodation, expenses and travel costs. Meanwhile, the salary of the same officer who remains in the country is £30,000. Where does he think this money will come from, if in the same breath he is proposing cuts in public spending?

Likewise, Mr Clarke has suggested that all visa applicants be fingerprinted. Whether this is carried out at overseas posts or on arrival, the cost of installing the necessary equipment and hiring extra staff to deal with the hundreds of thousands of hopeful immigrants each year would be huge, a detail he conveniently left out in his speech.

Both parties say they want more asylum-seekers to be detained. But aside from the legal and moral implications of locking up persons who are not proven criminals, the fact remains that enough detention space simply does not exist. During my time in the service, we had little choice but to let claimants loose onto the streets - known in official-speak as giving "temporary admission" - because there was nowhere to hold them.And unless Mr Howard and Mr Clarke are planning to dig deep into the Treasury coffers, I cannot foresee any massive increase in detention capacity.

As for Mr Howard's plans to return undocumented travellers, where can they be returned to if they do not admit their nationality or if we have no flight records? My experience taught me that no country will ever accept an undocumented passenger as its own. And the current Government has even more to answer for. It did away with embarkation control, by way of exit stamps in passports, giving rise to accusations that more people are overstaying than ever before.

Some months back, Mr Blair paid a visit to Terminal 3. Before his arrival, his entourage made a quick tour of the offices to ensure all would be to the Prime Minister's liking. When Mr Blair arrived, they steered him around areas that did not "speak" to them (ie, they hadn't liked the look of). Anyone who did not look busy was removed, and a hijab-wearing officer was placed within his line of vision, lest the service be deemed anything less than PC.

For his part, Mr Blair sauntered up to the control, waved at a few American tourists, gulped down a cup of tea made from the new kettle bought especially in his honour, and then left. His visit lasted half an hour.

The fact is, neither Labour nor the Tories are remotely concerned about the daily grind involved in manning the points of entry. Nor are they bothered about addressing the real reasons behind the importance placed on immigration by certain sections of the British public - that is, the ever-prevalent, xenophobic fear that the fabric of British society will be undermined by too many dark-skinned immigrants.

If the perennial lack of efficiency in the immigration service is an indicator, the concerns of our politicians extend only to headlines and ballot boxes.

shamimcuk@yahoo.co.uk

The writer worked as an immigration officer at Heathrow Airport Terminal 3 from 1993 to 1998

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: Project Engineer

£33000 - £35000 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Project E...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Technician

£35200 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Engine...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing specialist merchant co...

SThree: TRAINEE RECRUITMENT CONSULTANT - IT - LONDON

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £50k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 bus...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'