Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report



25.  Whatever the motivation of those who seek to enter the United Kingdom, it is clear from the evidence we have received that the process of most illegal entrants reaching the country involves trafficking, often by organised crime groups. From that point of view the potential illegal entrant is a commodity to be smuggled in the same way as drugs and un-taxed tobacco. Organised crime switches between such commodities depending on the rewards to be earned, the risk of detection and the penalties on conviction. In this respect the threat faced by the UK's border controls is not of a flood of individuals trying to reach the country for a variety of personal motives, but of experienced gangs of criminals, including UK nationals, testing and breaching the defences wherever they can for substantial reward.

"World wide, migrant smuggling and trafficking is now worth between $12 billion (IOM estimate) and $30 billion (US sources). Migrants pay £1500 from Romania, £6-9000 from India to a top rate of £16,000 from China ($30,000 from China to the United States). The fee varies with the distance travelled, mode of transport and whether extra services are offered (for example, guarantees of repeated attempts until entry is secured, work on arrival). Cost for a well forged passport can be £2,000. Profits are approaching drug smuggling levels and with lower criminal penalties if caught, there are few disincentives." Home Office evidence, Appendix 1, para 9.2.

26.  In the context of the tragic deaths at Dover, we were told by an immigration adviser to the Chinese community in Britain, that:

    "There is a severe shortage of labour in the UK Chinese food industry. Earnings in China are 1/20th of those in the UK. Chinese immigration trafficking is the result of the Government's refusal to admit a controlled flow of legal immigration. Economic migrants are forced to become asylum-seekers. A Chinese Snakehead is the head of a smuggling ring, part of a Triad. A Triad is an underworld gang whose activities are wide and varied, they include loansharking, illegal gaming, prostitution, extortion and smuggling. ... Snakeheads are active also in London and other cities in the world. The current cost in coming to the UK is in excess of 200,000 RMB (£16,500), equivalent to at least 30 years' savings in China for an average migrant. Those who cannot raise the money from relatives and friends have to borrow from loansharks or Snakeheads, in which case a guarantor is involved. Interest is currently 2-2.5% per month compound. Punishment for non-repayment is severe. Beatings and maiming are common. Because of a migrant's genuine fear for his safety and that of his family, should he be returned to China before his debts are repaid, he might well qualify for protection under the Human Rights Act".[17]

27.  One of the consequences of the involvement of organised crime is that measures to deter illegal entrants at one place may lead to new pressures at another. If controls at Dover become more effective, there may be increased attempts to enter illegally at Harwich. If checks on lorries make it harder for people to be smuggled in that way, there may be a switch to using fast small boats landing people on remote beaches. Ultimately, if the rewards of people smuggling become less attractive, criminals may change their activities back to drug or tobacco smuggling. There is the difference that the drug trafficker may lose his cargo which is valuable in itself; the trafficker in humans, once he has been paid, has no value invested in what he is smuggling.

"When discussing illegal immigration it is common to describe the immigrants as being smuggled or trafficked. However, these terms refer to different forms of immigration. Smuggling only involves the facilitation of a border crossing whereas trafficking involves a degree of exploitation (usually sexual or forced labour) in addition to the facilitation of a border crossing. Smuggling and trafficking have become a major source of income for criminal groups. It is assessed that some criminal groups have applied their knowledge of smuggling other illegal commodities to satisfy thus demand-led activity and that the high profits and low risks of organised crime attract them." National Criminal Intelligence Service: The Threat from Serious and Organised Crime May 2000

28.  One aspect of tighter border controls is that it makes it harder if not impossible for the genuine asylum seeker to reach the UK by legal means, thus pushing him to clandestine entry.[18] The harder clandestine entry becomes, the more the potential entrant - whether asylum-seeker or economic migrant - is forced into the hands of the traffickers.

Illegal immigration is affecting all EU Member States:
  • China, the Ukraine, Moldova, Sri Lanka, Poland, Romania and Afghanistan are [the main countries of origin of people] being smuggled

  • The number of Kosovars significantly decreased in 1999, but [there are still many of them] in some of the Member States ...

  • Well developed control measures at external borders and other law enforcement activities [have made] facilitators ... more important for illegal immigrants and their methods appear to have developed

  • Falsified documents such as passports and visas, as well as faked invitations, are becoming more and more professionally produced and are of a great concern to most of the Member states. 1999 EU Organised Crime Situation Report - Europol 30 October 2000

29.  Traffickers will try to facilitate illegal entry on many occasions - we were told that the price charged by such organisations reflects the possibility of repeated attempts to enter. On the Czech/German border 20% of illegal entrants caught had tried seven or more times before and 40% had tried two or three times before. In 1999 the Facilitation Support Unit at Dover - a combined police and Immigration Service operation - arrested 410 people in 299 incidents. This involved the trafficking of 1,809 illegal entrants or asylum claimants. Trials of 120 defendants resulted in 106 convictions. Custodial sentences exceeding 172 years were given.[19] There have also been a number of recent cases of UK citizens sent to prison in France for smuggling illegal immigrants into the UK.

"The gangs have infrastructures, communications and surveillance capabilities far in excess of anything that the law enforcement agencies in transit and source countries can muster and the ease with which they operate across international boundaries, means that the chances of their activities diminishing is negligible." Home Office, evidence, Appendix 1, para 9.4

30.  We asked the Home Secretary about the role of organised crime in encouraging clandestine entrants. He told us :

    "They generate a higher level of illegal entry because, after all, they are trading in people and they need to maintain demand. ....I do not think there is any doubt at all that a very high proportion of those who are unfounded asylum seekers have been facilitated here by criminal gangs".[20]

31.  We conclude that measures to counter trafficking in illegal immigrants require similar tactics to those used against drug smuggling - international cooperation, tackling the problem close to the source and aiming to disrupt the business. Border agencies should have the necessary gateways to operate joint intelligence cells and allow closer operational arrangements to counter the displacement element of more effective controls.


32.  When the European Union expands to admit new Member states, the frontier between those countries and other former communist countries of central and eastern Europe will eventually become the external border of the EU. The Schengen area of EU countries operating without internal border controls will include at some stage Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and other countries.

"Frontier control is not an exact science - problems may be managed, but they are never entirely solved. Illegal immigrants, criminal organisations, traffickers in people or drugs, have already penetrated and continue to penetrate the Union. Despite substantial investment of manpower and equipment, neither the German nor the Austrian governments have entirely succeeded in stemming unwelcome cross-border flows on their eastern frontiers. We note, for example, that many illegal immigrants apprehended in the UK had previously entered the EU across Germany's eastern frontier." House of Lords European Union Committee HL 110

33.  Hungary has land borders with seven other countries, of which only Austria is currently a member of the EU. Some of its neighbours will also join the EU, but not necessarily at the same time. We were told that Hungarians find it ironic that, having been responsible for starting the collapse of the Iron Curtain between communist countries and western Europe in 1989, they are now building new frontier controls to meet EU requirements. Hungary has close economic ties with border areas of other countries which will not join the EU as early. Its border guards earn one-fifth of the pay of German border guards. Nonetheless, we saw from our visit to Budapest in July 2000 how effectively Hungary is preparing for EU membership and the consequences for border controls. The Home Office told us:

34.  A recent report by the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union, looked at "Enlargement and EU Frontier Controls".[22] Its conclusions confirm some of the impressions this Committee was given during its visit to Hungary:

  • flows of illegal entrants have switched to the southern perimeter of the EU as candidate countries in the east have tightened their border controls

  • the present frontiers of the EU are by no means watertight

  • applicant states are treating seriously their future responsibilities for maintaining an external border and have made impressive progress towards fulfilling those requirements

  • the EU is already providing some training and technical support to border forces in applicant countries

  • more effort is needed to strengthen cooperation with countries on the other side of the likely future external borders

  • the full Schengen system will not be applied to the applicant states immediately on joining the EU, but in stages afterwards

  • frontier controls cannot be taken in isolation - there is a need for close cooperation between law enforcement agencies within the frontiers.

35.  It is difficult to quantify whether enlargement of the EU will add to the pressure on EU border controls. We are generally impressed with the approach of Hungary to its future responsibilities in operating EU external border controls when that country joins the EU. The different timescale within which some of its neighbours may also join the EU presents additional problems. We recognise that land borders are very difficult to police - even during the Cold War, the Iron Curtain between western Europe and the communist countries of eastern and central Europe was not completely effective at preventing determined people crossing land borders.

17  Appendix 26. (At least one appeal has already been upheld on the grounds that the appellant, if he were to be returned to China, would be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which would be a breach of Article 3 of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. (Appeal No CC/23235/2000 4th January 2001). Back

18  Q 370 (Mr Hardwick). Back

19  Appendix 1, annex 22. Back

20  Q 420-2 (Home Secretary). Back

21  Q 56 (Mr Boys Smith). Back

22  17th Report 1999-2000 HL 110. Back

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