Home Office Working Effectively with EU to Secure the UK Border, but Gaps in Fingerprinting Concern the Chief Inspector

The UK Home Office was working effectively with its French and Belgium counterparts to prevent illegal entrants from coming into the UK. However, a lack of fingerprinting of illegal immigrants at Calais and Coquelles was concerning. There was also improvement required in following guidance and legislation, particularly in relation to interviewing. These were the findings of the Chief Inspector of Border and Immigration’s inspection report looking at the juxtaposed controls.

 Juxtaposed controls were first established in 1994 to speed up entry and exit procedures on the Channel Tunnel route. They were subsequently introduced on the Eurostar route in 2001 and at the ferry ports in northern France in 2003 to counter the significant number of undocumented people arriving in the UK and claiming asylum. The juxtaposed controls represent a unique example of co-operation between the UK, France and Belgium to enable border security checks to be carried out on passengers before they travel to the UK.

 The Chief Inspector was pleased to find that:

  •  all border security checks were being carried out in accordance with the operating mandate;
  • Border Force had developed good working relationships with the local authorities. A Joint Operational Coordination Centre in Calais had improved the sharing of information between Border Force and the French police;
  • Border Force was taking a number of steps to close the Lille loophole, although there was more to do. They were liaising effectively with Eurostar and the local authorities to identify passengers who intended to evade immigration control;
  • staff were polite, courteous and professional when dealing with passengers at both the primary and secondary control points, and processed passengers efficiently and effectively in all the cases we sampled.

 However, the Chief Inspector was concerned to find:

  •  policy and guidance on further interviews was only followed in four of the 65 further interview records that were sampled;
  • in cases where passengers had been refused entry, the correct paperwork regarding the detention of these passengers had been issued or retained in only 21% of cases. This meant the Chief Inspector was unable to assess whether or not continued detention in the remaining cases was justified;
  • since January 2010, clandestines detected at Calais had not been fingerprinted by Border Force, due to problems with detention facilities. There was no evidence that the Home Office had considered whether this approach was one that should have continued for such a lengthy period of time. Despite having access to detention facilities, Coquelles also adopted this process 15 months later
  • the operation of the Civil Penalty Scheme had improved significantly since the Chief Inspector’s 2009 inspection. However, Border Force was consistently setting penalties significantly lower than the maximum sums specified in the legislation, even for repeat offenders.

 John Vine CBE QPM, Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, said:

 “I found excellent working relationships in place between Border Force, the French and Belgian authorities and the police, which means that thousands of people who have no right to enter the UK are prevented from doing so each year.

All security checks were being carried out properly and considerable effort was being made to identify those who sought to abuse the ‘Lille loophole’. This area of work remains a high priority for Border Force.

However, there is considerable room for improvement in complying with guidance and procedures, particularly in respect of further interviews.

I also find it surprising that people found attempting to enter the UK concealed in freight vehicles are no longer fingerprinted by Border Force at Calais or Coquelles. Gathering biometric information such as fingerprints could assist the decision-making process if these individuals were ultimately successful in reaching the UK and went on to claim asylum.”

The Chief Inspector made seven recommendations to the Home Office. These include that passenger interviews are conducted in accordance with existing policy and guidance, the effectiveness of the Civil Penalty scheme is improved, and the Home Office reconsiders its approach regarding the fingerprinting of clandestines.

A PDF copy of the report can be downloaded here.