Sussex Police are arresting illegal immigrants being smuggled through southern ports on an almost daily basis, they have revealed. The Road Patrol Unit alone has arrested 119 people in the last six months.
England’s southern counties have seen an explosion in the number of illegal immigrants arriving on their shores over the last year. Kent has so far borne the brunt of the migration wave as it is home to both the popular port of Dover and the landing point for the Channel Tunnel.
But as migration officers crack down on illegal crossings on those routes, migrants are increasingly turning to numerous other ports of entry, including Newhaven in Sussex, which has a ferry line to Dieppe in France. Some have even taken to dinghies in the hope of reaching the British coastline while bypassing any and all border security entirely.
In January, the Sussex Police Roads Policing Unit found 41 migrants stashed in the back of a lorry being driven by a 37-year-old Romanian. The lorry had just passed through Newhaven from Dieppe.
“That was just one day. Obviously that is quite a large number but it is becoming more common,” the unit’s chief inspector, Phil Nicholas, told the Brighton Argus.
“We continue to see a number of incidents on an almost daily basis. That is the reality of it.”
CI Nicholas said that his unit had arrested 119 illegal migrants found on Sussex roads over the last six months, but that figure does not include arrests at ports or airports, which are under the jurisdiction of the Border Agency. And of course no-one knows how many stowaways pass through undetected.
“We are usually called once the vehicle they are travelling in stops at a service station or reaches a destination,” CI Nicholas explained.
“They all come through the ports but it is difficult to say which ones.
“We have seen a large number in recent years. It is difficult to say an exact figure but arrests for us (roads police) in the last few years is certainly in the hundreds.
“That is the reality of the situation.”
Within the last few days his officers have been called to three incidents involving illegal immigrants.
In the first, a Spanish lorry was stopped on the A27 coastal road after a hand was spotting waving from the back of the vehicle. Seven adults and a child were found inside, and the 47-year-old Spanish driver arrested for facilitating illegal immigration.
A few days later officers found a teenaged boy in the back of lorry at the Rolls Royce Technology and Logistics Centre in Bognor, then just minutes later were called to Chichester, where men had been spotted jumping from the back of a lorry. Two men, aged 21 and 23 were arrested, but it is not known how many others got away.
The police reports come just days after the National Crime Agency (NCA) issued a report warning that criminal gangs were targeting smaller ports such as Newhaven as security is perceived to be less rigorous than at the bigger ports.
Tom Dowdall, deputy director of NCA’s border policing command, said that the trafficking gangs charge around £4,000 for passage to the UK overland and boat, and as much as much as £13,500 for a flight.
The majority of the migrants are coming from the Middle East and Africa, where the gangs are based, he said.
But local harbour masters insist that their security measures are not lax.
Dave Collins-Williams, harbour master at Newhaven, said: “We have regular meetings with police and Border Force and are kept up to date with all that is going on.
“Our security is inspected by the Department for Transport regularly. Our security is not an issue.”
And although Shoreham Harbour has recently decided to upgrade their security by bringing on board specialist firm GXS, harbour master Julian Seaman denied that the extra security was due to illegal migration.
“We brought GXS in because we wanted to take advantage of their expertise,” he said. “There was no trigger in particular it was just the right time to improve our security.
He added: “People see the ships come and go but there is a lot of work that goes on and a lot of process.
“Each ship will have a ship security officer. They will have supremacy of the vessel. I have supremacy of the quay, the terminal and the areas around. Everyone knowns who is coming and going and what is being transported.
“Before I allow any vessel into port I’ve already gone through a list of criteria with the crew. As long as we remain vigilant and the public remains vigilant then the system works.”