Docker claims flood of immigrants
DUMBFOUNDED Ipswich dockers are being told to direct suspected illegal immigrants to Croydon as no immigration officers were able to come to the port.As the tide in human cargo continues to filter in virtually unchecked through the Suffolk port an Evening Star investigation today exposes a bizarre system which allows criminal gangs to ply their lucrative trade almost at will.
By Colin Adwent
DUMBFOUNDED Ipswich dockers are being told to direct suspected illegal immigrants to Croydon as no immigration officers were able to come to the port.
As the tide in human cargo continues to filter in virtually unchecked through the Suffolk port an Evening Star investigation today exposes a bizarre system which allows criminal gangs to ply their lucrative trade almost at will. COLIN ADWENT reports.
DISBELIEF and frustration are the over-riding emotions among Ipswich dock workers as they struggle to comprehend Britain's immigration laws.
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With no immigration officers are permanently based at the port, dockers have been advised to let asylum seekers find their own way to Croydon to register their claims with the Home Office.
Of even more concern however, is that illegal immigrants could be entering the country with no background checks, smuggled in by those in the pay of ruthless European crime gangs.
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Often when immigration officers are called by port workers, they are too busy to come from their base in Harwich.
If workers do find unknown foreign nationals wandering around at the port, staff have been told officers need proof from eye witnesses who have seen them come out of a trailer or container, before they will come out.
Although the Immigration Service is the lead agency it often depends on Suffolk's already overworked police force to round up the intruders. However many of the suspected illegals often have telephone numbers to call for transport when they arrive.
Each day four ships carrying a maximum of 10 lorries and unaccompanied 40ft containers dock at the roll-on roll-off terminal at West Bank each day, sailing from Ostend in Belgium.
The Anglian Way, Flanders Way, Ipswich Way and Ostend Way, birth at six hour intervals from about 5.30am. It is these ships which are used to smuggle in the human cargo.
""We are noticing the ones who come through are not women and children," said one docker.
"They are mainly men aged 17-25. Those you do talk to have phone numbers. They are desperate to get to a phone or ask how to work the phones."
A few weeks ago the worker said he and his colleagues were amazed when the immigration authorities told them to direct a trio of men they found at the port to London as no officers were available.
"In the middle of the morning three Indian looking people were seen wandering round the port," said the worker. "A couple of tug drivers tried to round them up and the men decided to make a run for it. Port security managed to catch them and told them to stay where they were.
"We phoned the Immigration Service and they told us to tell them to make their own way to Croydon. I'd have a job to find my own way to Croydon. Do they expect us to give them their train fare? It's so frustrating."
The management of ABP which owns the port sent a letter to the Home Office which confirmed suspected asylum seekers should be sent to Croydon if officers were unable to come to the port.
"A lot of the men are absolutely fuming because you can't do anything about it," said the docker.
He claimed some of the things he has seen are so brazen they are difficult to comprehend.
"I went in one day during the winter and saw one man wearing our old green port overalls," said the worker.
"He said 'Morning' and there were about 10 people behind him who were not in uniform. He was just leading them towards the gate. He was definitely one of the crew.
"We've had occasions where people have just walked off the boats.
"One bloke made a run for it and left his wife and child behind. They got locked up and left on the boat and he just legged it, leaving the woman stranded.
"It make you angry when you see it happening. I don't blame ABP. It is a brilliant company and is turning Ipswich into one of the best short sea ports in the country. The government is not backing up what its saying (about controlling immigration). Over the last 12 months I have seen three or four dozen (suspected illegals) but I have heard of a lot more than that from other workers. You can hear it on the radios when someone says 'Boys, look at this'. These are only the ones we see. How many don't we see.
"The last lot we had was two weeks ago. I think there were about 12 of them. One person even said they got changed when they got out the back of a lorry before they set off.
"The police will come if they are not overstretched but by the time they do get there the asylum seekers and illegal immigrants are normally up Wherstead Road. The last time they came they (the suspected illegals) were up by the ski slope."
Security is very much at the forefront of the port staff minds. Shortly before the invasion of Iraq the worker said they were told by their TGWU representative that in a meeting with the government ports such as Ipswich were classed as high risk.
"We were told that Ipswich was to be classed as a high risk port because we are so far inland and the ships are virtually in the town," he said.
"I have seen Immigration come once with their little probe (which detects human breath in the trailers). They came for two days and that was when we got a large influx. A quarter of my wages go in deductions but the immigration people are always busy."
Another port worker added: "You think to yourself 'Who on earth is going to get this under control'."
John Davey, general manager of Ferryways in Ipswich, said the problem with illegal immigrants had increased since their service to the West Bank Terminal started three years ago.
"It's a big business - you don't know whether to feel sorry for the immigrants themselves because they're just pawns in the racket.
"We do all we can to prevent illegals coming in, and this is mainly concentrated on at the Ostend terminal because once they've got here it's too late - there are no facilities to hold them at Ipswich.
"At Ostend we have CO2 and heartbeat monitors as well as other checks, but the smugglers get more inventive all the time - every day it's more difficult but we try to stay one step ahead of them," Mr Davey added.
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