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Thursday, September 2, 1999 Published at 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK


Port targets illegal immigrants

The operation focused on Dover and the Channel Tunnel

Nearly 100 illegal immigrants have been seized in a two-day crackdown at the port of Dover.

Many of those detained were found hiding in the back of lorries entering the port from across the chanel.

The BBC's Robin Gibson watches the team in action
Immigration officials, who found 74 "clandestine" immigrants within hours of the operation starting on Wednesday, said they were hoping to send out the mesage that Britain was not a "soft target" for smuggling gangs.

[ image: The Immigration Service says smugglers will be caught]
The Immigration Service says smugglers will be caught
Those attempting to enter the country illegally are likely to claim asylum, joining an 82,000-long backlog of cases waiting to be assessed.

They are being held at Dover for processing.

The high profile exercise was launched after figures showed a further surge in the number of people trying to smuggle themselves into the UK.

Provisional figures for August showed the Immigration Service discovered 1,130 "clandestines" in August.

That is a rise on July's figure of 815 and represents more than a third of the total of 3,212 clandestines discovered at the port during the whole of last year.

[ image: Tension betweens locals and refugees has led to violence in Dover]
Tension betweens locals and refugees has led to violence in Dover
The Assistant Director of the Immigration Service, Jim Munro, said the operation aimed to publicise efforts being taken at Dover to stem the influx and to send out a message to organised gangs involved in people smuggling that they would be caught.

Officials used two dogs and devices which detect carbon dioxide inside lorry containers - indicating people are present.

Searches were also stepped up on caravans, camper-vans and car boots.

Foot passengers were also being targeted to uncover those trying to enter the country with inadequate documentation.

The blitz followed a political row over the government's handling of the immigration issue and figures showing asylum applications in July hit a record 6,600.

An influx of asylum seekers into Kent, where about 2,000 refugees are currently being housed, has led to rising tensions between immigrants and local residents, and outbreaks of violence.

Channel scam

Officials were also mounting a similar operation at Coquelles - the immigration post for the Channel Tunnel in France.

There have been a number of cases recently where immigrants have used a dual-ticket scam to try and gain entry to the UK illegally.

This involved buying two train tickets in Paris - one for Calais and the other for London.

When questioned by French border police on board the train, they show the ticket for Calais and are therefore not asked for their passports.

At Calais they stay on the train, switching to their London tickets.

Officials on the train assume they have already had their passports checked.

Once they arrive at Waterloo, they claim asylum - a process which can take years and during which time they can live in Britain.

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