Blunkett steps up jail penalty for people smugglers to face 14 years in prison

Immigration

Ian Burrell,Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 16 January 2002 01:00

People smugglers will face prison sentences of up to 14 years in a crackdown on organised human trafficking and illegal immigration announced by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

The proposed change will be put forward in a White Paper on immigration, asylum and citizenship due next month.

Mr Blunkett said he wanted to "get much tougher" with the smuggling gangs, which charge people up to £20,000 to be brought into the United Kingdom.

He said: "I'm intending to legislate to expand the penalty for smuggling and trafficking from 10 to 14 years, to send a signal to those who actually feel there's nothing evil about the way in which they take and use the lives of others, often exploiting them when they are here, having got them here illegally claiming neither nationality of asylum status."

People brought illegally into Britain are often forced afterwards to work in appalling conditions as agricultural workers or as prostitutes. The harsher sentences, though, will apply to anyone who facilitates the illegal entry of migrants, regardless of whether they are exploited afterwards.

Immigration officials have noted the increasing involvement of British nationals in international gangs that smuggle people into the UK. Britons are often used as vehicle drivers for the final leg of the journey because the gangs believe they attract less suspicion from Customs at ports.

At an immigration conference at Canada House in Trafalgar Square yesterday, Mr Blunkett repeated his view that migrants who settle in Britain should learn to speak English.

He also said he was considering a new "buddy" scheme for refugees that would team new arrivals with British citizens to help them integrate into society.

Mr Blunkett said the plan had been partly inspired by a Canadian programme that had helped thousands of immigrants forge closer links with their new home country at very little cost. Rosaline Frith, Canada's director general of integration, told the conference: "In some cases we are matching families with other families or people with a certain skill with an employer in the same area. Or they might be matching a youth with another youth."

Ms Frith said the "buddies" also benefited from the programme. "Those volunteers learn about those people and the countries they came from, and they are far more appreciative and respectful of them," she said.

Mr Blunkett said: "I like the idea of a "buddy" scheme, both in terms of individuals providing support to those coming in, and also in regard to employers."

The Home Secretary also announced that two prisons will be redesignated as immigration removal centres, which means that asylum-seekers held there will no longer have to abide by prison rules.

Haslar prison at Gosport, Hampshire, and a unit at Lindholme prison, near Doncaster, South Yorkshire, are to be placed under the control of the immigration and nationality department of the Home Office from next month. Mr Blunkett said the move was part of the Government's commitment to transfer immigration detainees held in prisons to immigration removal centres.