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2000: Minister sees immigrants captured
The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has witnessed nine people being caught attempting to illegally enter the UK as he inspected immigration procedures in Dover.

The illegal immigrants, including a woman with a child, were discovered minutes after Mr Straw arrived in the port on a routine visit to see how the government's new measures to curb illegal immigration to the UK were working.

The first, who said he was from Kosovo, was found using a special probe to detect breathing. He was hiding in a space between two pallets measuring 5ft x 18" (1.5m x 45cm). Mr Straw shook his hand as he stepped off the lorry.

About 10 minutes later, a further eight refugees - seven adults and a child - were found by a sniffer dog in the back of another lorry from Prague.

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

Mr Straw described his "very great anger" at what he called the "dreadful trade in human traffic". Praising the work of immigration officers, he insisted the UK was meeting its international obligations, but would not be a "soft touch".

Drivers face an instant fine of 2,000 for each stowaway found in their lorries under controversial new measures brought in at the beginning of this month to crack down on illegal immigration. Since then, more than 50 lorry drivers, 13 of them British, have been caught carrying more than 300 illegal immigrants into the country.

"We cannot go on turning a blind eye to this kind of criminal traffic any more," said Mr Straw. "The vast majority of truckers are decent people, but some are not and have been taking money to bring people over."

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

But the shadow Home Secretary, Ann Widdecombe, expressed doubt over the government's ability to cope with the rising tide of applicants.

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

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

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Jack Straw (r) watches as illegal immigrants leave lorry
The illegal immigrants included a woman with a child

In Context
Less than two months later, in June 2000, Dover immigration officers found 58 suspected illegal immigrants from China dead in the back of a container lorry, after suffocating during a horrific journey from mainland Europe.

Since then, the government crackdown on illegal immigration has gathered pace.

In early 2002, Jack Straw's successor as Home Secretary, David Blunkett, introduced the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill. Its main proposals include requiring would-be immigrants to make a "citizenship pledge" in a US-style allegiance ceremony, and requiring them to speak English. The Bill also includes a "white list" of safe countries, from which asylum claims will be presumed to be unfounded.

The bill has met opposition from many refugee organisations, although it has been broadly welcomed by opposition MPs. It was given royal assent in late 2002.

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