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The BBC's Geeta Guru-Murthy
"The Home Secretary is keen to be seen enforcing tough policy"
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Roger King, Road Haulage Association
"Risks, trials and tribulations that truckers face"
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Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Straw witnesses immigrant arrests
Jack Straw (second from right) watches as an illegal immigrant is discovered
Jack Straw (second right) sees a stowaway discovered
Home Secretary Jack Straw has witnessed 10 people being caught attempting to illegally enter the UK as he inspected immigration procedures in Dover.

Mr Straw witnessed the arrests as he went to the port to see how the government's new measures to curb illegal immigration to the UK were working.

We cannot go on turning a blind eye to this kind of criminal traffic any more

Jack Straw
His visit came the day after the Home Office announced that it had dealt with a record number asylum applications last month.

The debate over asylum seekers has dominated local elections campaigning in recent weeks with both Labour and the Conservatives having been accused of politicising the issue.

Inspection tour

During his morning inspection in Dover, Mr Straw saw immigration officers discover nine people in one vehicle, including a woman with a child, and a further person in a second vehicle.

The team of officers were using sniffer dogs, special probes to detect breathing and other equipment on lorries disembarking from ferries.

Praising their work, Mr Straw insisted that the UK was meeting its international obligations but would not be a soft tough to those who sought to "profit from the dreadful trade of human traffic."

Mr Straw warned drivers that they faced a 2,000 fine for each stowaway found in their lorries.

"The message is getting through to British truckers," he said

"It's still going to take a little more time with foreign drivers."

"The law provides a clear defence for people that have taken adequate steps and followed practice agreed with the hauliers associations," said Mr Straw.

"If truckers follow the code of practice they will not have to pay penalties, as there is a process of appeal. "We cannot go on turning a blind eye to this kind of criminal traffic any more.

"The vast majority of truckers are decent people but some are not and have been taking money to bring people over. Truckers have a civic duty and have to recognise this."

Cases completed

Immigration officers dealt with 11,340 cases during March - four times the number dealt with at the end of last year.

It is still going to take years to clear the backlog of asylum applications

Ann Widdecombe
More than 50 lorry drivers, 19 of whom are British, have been caught carrying asylum seekers since the measures were introduced.

One driver faces a fine of 100,000 after 50 stowaways were found in his vehicle.

Immigration officials at Dover also showed Mr Straw new arrangements for dispersing asylum seekers from Kent to other areas of the country.

The dispersal arrangements have caused concern among local councils, many of which are saying that they have not been offered enough money from the government to cope with the influx of immigrants.

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe has expressed doubt as to how the government will cope with the rising tide of applicants.

"It is still going to take years to clear the backlog of asylum applications and in the meantime more and more applications come in," she said.

"Applications received over the last three months are up 36% on the monthly average for the same period last year.

"This shows the government is failing to tackle Britain's image of being a soft touch."

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See also:

22 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Tory asylum policy warning
12 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Fresh row over asylum seekers
11 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Asylum cost under fire
10 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Parties defend asylum comments
10 Apr 00 | Europe
Europe toughens asylum policies
14 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Government defends race record
19 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Tories deny 'racism' jibe
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