28,000 illegal attempts to enter UK foiled

New figures reveal the increasingly desperate battle to protect borders

Robert Verkaik
Wednesday 24 June 2009 00:00

The number of illegal immigrants caught trying to enter Britain from the continent has nearly trebled in the past five years, new figures show.

Nearly 20,000 attempts by immigrants to enter Britain illegally were thwarted in Calais last year compared to 7,500 in 2004.

A further 9,000 were stopped in Coquelle and Dunkirk, Belgium and Paris. It is not known how many more immigrants succeeded in outwitting the UK border forces.

The Home Office figures paint a picture of an increasingly desperate battle between the UK Border Agency and the growing number of foreigners who believe they have a chance of a better life in the UK.

This year, immigration officers found 13 Afghanis and two Iranians hiding in a lorry-load of light bulbs. The Hungarian-registered lorry was stopped at Calais before it could board a ferry across the Channel.

Similarly, failed attempts were made by two Vietnamese men concealed in a consignment of nappies. And last year, border officers thwarted a bid by four Afghans who were found in lorry-load of champagne.

The immigration crisis in Calais, the temporary home to thousands of immigrants trying to come to Britain, has worsened in recent weeks.

On Monday, there were reports that the French town was under siege after hundreds of protesters arrived to demand an end to border controls between France and Britain. Riot police were on alert in the streets after intelligence reports raised fears of widespread violence.

The record number of successful interventions by UK border officers has been largely due to a marked increase in immigration controls and freight searches carried out by British officers on the Continent. Last year, there were 738,474 searches.

There have also been developments in methods used to detect people who are trying to cross the border. Body detection dogs are trained to smell humans who are inside vehicles simply by sniffing the air outside.

Heartbeat detector sheds contain mobile computers that uses four special vibration sensors to detect movement inside a vehicle.

And carbon dioxide probes detect carbon dioxide, the gas which is expelled by the lungs.

The Border and Immigration minister Phil Woolas said: "The UK has one of the strongest borders in the world. We work closely with our French partners to tackle illegal immigration using state-of-the-art technology such as carbon dioxide and heartbeat detectors.

"Last year alone, UK Border Agency staff at our French and Belgium controls not only searched more than one million lorries but also stopped 28,000 attempts to cross the Channel illegally.

"The illegal migrants in France are not queuing to get into Britain – they have been locked out," Mr Woolas said. But the Liberal Democrat spokesman for Home Affairs, Chris Huhne, said: "The huge rise in detections last year begs the question how many illegal immigrants were slipping through the net before.

"These figures are worrying precisely because they suggest that control at our borders is still far too weak, and for everyone detected there may be far more who are not.

"We need a national border force with police powers to ensure that only legal migrants enter Britain, and that the human trade in trafficked migrants is stopped and its organisers are brought to justice. Our borders have been too porous for too long.

"We need an immigration system that is firm but fair but we currently have neither."

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