Fury over scam that lets refugees slip into Britain
The Express on Sunday - 18 September 2005
By Kirsty Buchanan - Deputy Political Editor
A POLITICAL storm erupted last night over a glaring security loophole that allows illegal immigrants to slip into Britain on Eurostar.
For the price of a train ticket from Brussels to Lille, refugees can enter Britain unhindered by passport controls.
The Home Office admitted the scam had left Britain exposed and said officials were working hard to find a solution. Urgent questions will be tabled in the European Parliament by Conservatives outraged by the dodge, which could easily be exploited by terrorists. The loophole has gone unplugged since Britain's agreement with France over the Sangatte refugee camp came into force last October.
The accord allows British immigration officials to be stationed at Eurostar terminals in Paris and Brussels to question travellers bound for London, but refugees are getting round this by buying a ticket to the French town of Lille and then staying on the train until it reaches London.
As there are no passport checks at the Eurostar terminal at Waterloo station they simply disappear into the night.
The move was designed to head off those arriving in Britain from the French refugee camp via the Eurotunnel and immediately claiming asylum.
But the Sangatte accord does not allow British immigration officials to check the passports of those journeying between Belgium and France under Europe's travel-without-borders Schengen agreement.
This abolished the internal borders between 15 mainland European countries, including Belgium and France.
Those travelling between the two countries need only show their Schengen visa and ticket to Belgian officials to board the Eurostar train, while British officials may only see the ticket.
Charles Tannock, Conservative foreign affairs spokesman in the European Parliament, said the visas were relatively easy to forge. He explained: "Third country nationals taking a Eurostar train from Brussels with a Schengen visa can simply buy a ticket to Lille.
"The officials cannot challenge their right to board the train, nor do the immigration officers have a right to inspect their passports or identity cards.
"All they need to do is board a London-bound train and remain on it until they arrive at Waterloo."
Charles Shoebridge, a security analyst and former counter-terrorism officer, said: "Any means of evading immigration control is also a means by which a terrorist wishing to enter the country can avoid coming to the notice of British authorities and, as such, is a matter of security concern."
Mr Tannock said it was impossible to gauge the scale of the illegal entry scam because it was not possible to police a loophole.
Conservative homeland security spokesman Patrick Mercer said: "I am extremely worried by this.
"If ever there was a reason why we need a border security force, this is it.
"We need to make sure this sort of nonsense cannot continue and stop people coming in from abroad hell-bent on subversion and violence. The Government has been working on this for a year and has produced absolutely no change whatsoever."
Sir Andrew Green, of Migration Watch UK, said: "This is an extraordinary loophole which ought to have been plugged long ago." The Home Office said: "We know about the loophole and we are looking at ways we can stop it."