Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


The Home Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1.  The tragic deaths of 58 Chinese people, found in a lorry at Dover on 19 June 2000, brought into sharp focus the pressures on the United Kingdom's border controls. There have been near tragedies on a similar scale in other European countries in recent years.[9] 2,180 illegal entrants to the UK were identified in May 2000 - nearly twice as many as in the same month a year before.[10] The fact that so many people take such risks and try to reach the UK, and that so many succeed, has caused us to examine the effectiveness of border controls. The recent increase in the number of illegal entrants is shown in charts A and B (after paragraph 7).

2.  The key questions we have addressed are:

Why has the demand for asylum in the UK risen? How does this compare with demand in other European countries?

How effective are current controls at UK borders by the responsible agencies?

Would border controls be enhanced by the creation of a single agency?

What investment is made in the use of modern technology?

Are there more efficient ways of the UK meeting its international obligations to those who apply for asylum?

3.  Geography has endowed Great Britain with a natural barrier between it and other countries; economics has dictated that entry and departure occurs mainly through major sea and air ports; history means that there are people living in many parts of the world who have family links with the UK. Consequently the UK has a very different approach to its immediate neighbours, most of whom are now part of the Schengen Convention for free movement of people between countries.

4.  We decided to conduct this inquiry in February 2000. Written and oral evidence has been taken from government departments, port operators, vehicle and passenger carriers and those concerned with the welfare of refugees and migrants. We are most grateful to all those who have given evidence. We have visited Dover, Harwich, Felixstowe and Heathrow in the UK. Elsewhere in Europe, we have seen the facilities at Calais, on the Czech/German border at Waidhaus, at Budapest airport and at the port of Algeciras in southern Spain. To assist us in our inquiries we appointed as our specialist adviser Angus McIntosh QPM, who was National Co-ordinator of Ports Policing in the rank of Commander (Assistant Chief Constable) from 1987 to 1998. His wisdom and experience have been an invaluable asset to our inquiry. The main thrust of our inquiry has been into measures to detect and deter illegal entrants. This work is largely carried out by the Immigration Service, part of the Home Office.

"Regulation of entry to and settlement in the United Kingdom in the interests of social stability and economic growth, and facilitation of travel by United Kingdom citizens." Home Office's Statement of Purpose

5.  Border controls are enforced by the Immigration Service. The Immigration Service is itself part of the larger Immigration and Nationality Directorate. Until recently the Immigration Service comprised a Ports Directorate (with about two-thirds of the budget) and an Enforcement Directorate. They have recently been re-organised into two regional directorates.

6.  Border controls are also maintained for the prevention of (a) terrorism, (b) smuggling of alcohol and tobacco and (c) importation of illegal drugs. We have therefore looked in particular at the work of the Customs and Excise and to a lesser extent the police. Their approach, methods, organisation and use of technology have been invaluable comparators in assessing the way the Immigration Service does its job.

7.  One feature of the recent increase in the number of entrants to the UK is the high proportion seeking asylum as refugees. The country's acceptance of asylum seekers is governed by the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees. We have also examined whether that Convention, drawn up in the aftermath of the Second World War, is working appropriately in modern circumstances.

9  On 17 October 1998 a small lorry was found in Germany with 75 people on board and near to death - but they were found in time and all survived; a similar incident involving 36 people occurred in Hungary recently. Back

10  Appendix 2. Back

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Prepared 31 January 2001