Last Thursday evening, Border Force officers at the port of Harwich detected and intercepted 68 migrants seeking to enter the UK illegally and clandestinely. The discovery came after four lorries were selected for examination and for searching through Border Force’s normal operating procedures. Among the 68 migrants were two pregnant women and 15 children. Seven migrants complained of chest pains and nausea and were taken to hospital as a precautionary measure. All four drivers of the lorries involved were arrested on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration. They have been bailed but remain under investigation by law enforcement bodies, including the National Crime Agency.
Of the 68 people found, 35 were Afghans, 22 Chinese, 10 Vietnamese and one Russian. None of those taken to hospital, including the two pregnant women, was found to have a substantive medical condition of concern. Some of the individuals have claimed asylum, and UK Visas and Immigration is considering their claims, including suitability for the “detained fast track” process. Two of the asylum seekers are unaccompanied minors and have been placed in the care of Essex social services. We have already begun the work to seek the removal of the remaining migrants from the UK, and 15 have already been successfully removed. If we can show that those claiming asylum have also claimed in another EU member state, we will seek to remove them under the Dublin regulations. The Government are clear that the EU’s approach to migratory flows must include the proper management of the external border, the prompt return of those not in genuine need of protection and action to tackle the efforts of the smugglers and traffickers who profit from human misery.
I am aware that my hon. Friend Mr Jenkin visited the port, which is in his constituency, on Friday, and I endorse and echo his positive words about the work of Border Force. It conducts rigorous checks, on a targeted basis, on lorries and other vehicles as they arrive at UK ports of entry, as was the case at Harwich on Thursday evening. Such checks are undertaken by skilled officers who have the expertise to identify individuals often well hidden in vehicles and they involve the use of state-of-the-art scanning and X-ray technology. Thursday night’s incident at Harwich comes on the back of several other good results for the Border Force team at that port. Among other successful operations in recent years, the team has made some significant seizures, including 15 kg of heroin in December, 17 kg of cocaine in May and 2.9 million cigarettes in March.
On the specific problems of clandestine immigrants, Border Force concentrates significant resources at the juxtaposed ports in northern France, where the vast majority of illegal border crossings are attempted. All lorries undergo enhanced screening at these locations, but our approach is flexible and intelligence led. Border
Force can and does move its resources around on the basis of threat to ensure we keep one step ahead of the criminal gangs that exploit vulnerable people and try to circumvent our immigration laws.
The important work that Border Force officers carry out, detecting and intercepting those who attempt to enter the UK illegally, in conjunction with law enforcement agencies in the UK and internationally, is vital in the fight against organised criminal networks engaged in people smuggling. These gangs show a callous disregard for human life and seek to make a profit out of other people’s misery. I commend Border Force for its discovery last week and the work it does day in, day out to protect the UK’s border, and I commend this statement to the House.