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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 07:42 GMT 08:42 UK
Clandestine migrants face high-tech tools
Scanner image of vehicle, PA
The scanner lets officers look inside vehicles
By BBC News Online's Ivan Noble

Home Secretary David Blunkett's announcement of new equipment for the British immigration service on Wednesday adds to the range of hi-tech tools used to find people trying to get into Britain without papers.

Heimann CargoVision scanner, PA
Vehicles pass beneath the arm of the scanner
The five mobile X-/gamma ray scanners to be placed at Dover and the Eurotunnel terminal at Coquelles in France will cost 9m and let immigration officers see inside vehicles and containers.

They will be used as a back up to carbon dioxide scanners currently in place.

The Home Office says using the scanners will make it much more likely that people trying to enter Britain illegally will be found.

Radiation dose

They will force transport companies to make more efforts to stop people using their services to travel clandestinely and they will deter people who make money from helping people enter Britain illegally, it says.

The government says the scanners will not result in major radiation doses to people.

A person hidden inside a lorry being scanned would receive a radiation dose equivalent to less than a thousandth of the background radiation they would normally receive in a year, it says.

And it argues that the scanners will save lives if they stop people undertaking journeys to Britain in often very dangerous circumstances.

  • In June 2000, 58 Chinese people were found dead in a container by customs officers at Dover.
  • Fifty more Chinese people were freed from a trailer on a Dover-bound ferry after banging on the side.
  • In April 2001, French customs found 24 Indians reportedly close to asphyxiation in a truck carrying rags and fabric.
Carbon dioxide scanners currently in use detect the carbon dioxide that people breathe out, but they are also triggered off by some types of freight which give off the gas, and cannot be used on certain types of container.

The Home Office says that immigration officers will use the new scanners on vehicles they already suspect have people hidden inside or vehicles that have been highlighted by intelligence reports.

During its testing process, the Home Office looked at scanners made by a German company called Heimann Systems and a US company called AS&E.

Heartbeat sensors

It plans to step up closed-circuit television surveillance at Heathrow Airport, and to continue pilots of other detection systems.

Heartbeat sensors are being tried out at Dover and Coquelles.

Four brass sensors are placed on the frame of a stationary vehicle and connected to a computer, which then detects the tiny motion of the vehicle in time with the heartbeat of a person or animal inside.

And sensitive thermal-imaging systems, which can scan moving soft-sided vehicles, are also under study. Eurotunnel already uses the system in France.

See also:

11 Sep 01 | Europe
Court rejects camp closure plea
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