New clampdown on illegal immigrants

A NEW clampdown on illegal immigrants reaching Britain through North Sea ports including Ipswich was launched today by Home Secretary David Blunkett.Mr Blunkett was due to finalise a deal with Belgian interior minister Patrick Dewael which will grant full powers to UK immigration officers on Belgian soil.

A NEW clampdown on illegal immigrants reaching Britain through North Sea ports including Ipswich was launched today by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Mr Blunkett was due to finalise a deal with Belgian interior minister Patrick Dewael which will grant full powers to UK immigration officers on Belgian soil.

Senior officials said it would allow them to "stay ahead of the game" in their campaign to keep illegal immigrants out of the UK.

Yesterday they showed off hi-tech equipment already operating at Belgian ports to detect stowaways in freight lorries.


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The devices include a lorry-mounted gamma ray scanner which gives a clear image of bodies hidden in vehicles and can also be used to spot contraband.

It has been installed at Ostend port, from where Ferryways runs a freight service to the West Bank terminal in Ipswich.

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The mobile gamma ray scanner on show at Ostend ferry terminal yesterday has been operating there and at Zeebrugge since June 2003, along with an advanced heartbeat sensor, which can pick up a single heartbeat from inside an HGV.

But John Davey, Ferryways manager in Ipswich, said old-style checks remained important in the battle against illegal immigration.

"We use heartbeat detectors, and the experience of our staff who can spot if a lorry has been tampered with," he said.

The move comes eight months after The Evening Star highlighted the problem of illegal immigrants who sneak into the country through Ipswich docks where there is no permanent base for immigration officials.

A letter from the Home Office to dock staff also asked that asylum seekers be directed to Croydon - 80 miles away - if immigration staff at Harwich were too busy to come the Port of Ipswich to deal with them.

Today's deal with Belgium will set up UK immigration controls at the Brussels-Midi Eurostar station.

UK immigration officers will be able to refuse entry to passengers with false, stolen or inadequate travel documents before they board the Eurostar train, meaning they will be unable to travel to Britain and claim asylum.

Similar measures already operate at the three French Eurostar terminals and stopped 9,000 people reaching the UK last year.

The measures agreed with France in 2001 reduced asylum applications at London's Waterloo Station - where the Eurostar terminates - by more than 90%.

The Immigration Service's director of border control David Roberts said of the expected agreement: "It's about getting ahead of the game.

"We don't want this to turn into a problem and by being there in Brussels it won't turn into a problem."

New arrangements at Brussels are expected to be finalised by Mr Blunkett and Mr Dewael in London this afternoon and should be in place by the summer.

N Do you think the new powers will help bring an end to illegal immigration? Write in to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk or visit the forum at www.eveningstar.co.uk

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