Monday, January 9, 2012

British government admits illegal immigrants are no longer routinely fingerprinted

Border staff have been instructed to stop fingerprinting illegal immigrants caught trying to enter Britain via the Channel Tunnel, it has emerged. Documents confirm that stowaways found in vehicles at the Eurotunnel compound at Coquelles, north of Calais, are no longer subjected to routine fingerprinting.

The news is likely to increase pressure on Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who was embroiled in controversy over the secret relaxation of British border controls late last year.

The scandal led to the resignation of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) chief, Brodie Clark.

Damian Green, the immigration minister, has defended abandoning the "lengthy" process of taking fingerprints, saying UKBA staff were better served searching cars, lorries and coaches instead.

So-called “clandestines" caught at the border have been fingerprinted and handed over to French police since 2006. Mrs May and Mr Green are under pressure to explain why the change to the policy had not been made public.

Roger Gale, the Conservative MP for North Thanet who wrote to the Home Office to demand an explanation after being told of the development by a constituent, told The Sunday Times: "My constituent works for the [UKBA] service and felt there were a number of real concerns about the changes. He was very worried that no records are being taken."

In a letter to Mr Gale, Mr Green confirmed that the fingerprinting of illegal immigrants found concealed in vehicles in Coquelles "has been discontinued" and was now undertaken only when deemed to be of "added operational value".

He added that the UKBA believed the change "will enable its staff to focus on the high priority of searching vehicles and therefore prevent such individuals from even getting to the UK".

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, described Green's letter as "astonishing" and said: "By not even bothering to fingerprint anyone, the government is sending a signal that this is not a serious offence and people should feel free to keep trying."


Boatful of Sri Lankan "asylum seekers" adds to Australian concerns

One of three asylum-seeker boats to arrive in Australia since the start of this year is met by authorities at Christmas Island at the weekend. Picture: Scott Fisher Source: The Australian
THE interception by the Sri Lankan navy of a group of asylum-seekers bound for Australia has heightened concerns that Indonesia's plans to relax its visa restrictions could lead to a sharp spike in the number of boatpeople attempting the hazardous journey.

Last Friday, a group of 22 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers preparing to travel to Australia via Indonesia was intercepted by the Sri Lankan navy before they left the port city of Tangalle.

The group's thwarted bid came just days after Indonesia announced plans to relax visa restrictions on citizens from several countries, including Sri Lanka.

The number of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers arriving in Australia has declined over the past year, but in announcing an easing of the visa requirements last week, Indonesia's director-general of immigration with the Law and Human Rights Ministry, Bambang Irawan, conceded the new plan could lead to a surge in asylum-seeker traffic to Australia.

Last night, a spokeswoman for the Gillard government said Australia was engaged in discussions with Indonesian authorities about the planned changes to the country's visa requirements.
"Australia and Indonesia are committed to working together and with other source, transit and destination countries to develop regional solutions," the spokeswoman said.

"The government will continue to monitor the visa arrangements and their impact, and will work with Indonesia to address any issues that arise."

While the federal government has so far refused to speculate directly on Indonesian policy, Tony Abbott last week expressed his concern about the mooted changes to the visa requirements and the consequences for Australia. "Obviously, nearly all of the boats come from Indonesia and if potential boat arrivals can more easily enter Indonesia, there is potential for a problem."

"I don't believe that now is the time to be critical of Indonesia. It is the Australian government which has really fallen down on the job here," the Opposition Leader said.

In December, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd sat down with their counterparts Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop in a bid to reach a compromise on offshore processing policy. Those discussions are said to be "ongoing".

The interception of the Sri Lankan vessel and the arrival of three asylum-seeker boats in the first week of this year has accentuated the urgency of the issue.

On Saturday, a boat carrying 119 suspected asylum-seekers and two crew was intercepted off the West Australian coast.

Opposition border protection spokesman Michael Keenan said the third arrival in a week was evidence the people-smuggler trade was not slowing. "Labor must show some resolve, end their arms-wide-open policy and stop encouraging people-smugglers by taking away the product they have to sell," Mr Keenan said.


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