It is one year since the lorry drivers found guilty of smuggling Vietnamese migrants were put on trial at the Old Bailey.
The trial highlighted the extent to which illegal immigration is facilitated by serious organised criminals seeking to exploit people. Police said the motivation behind the overcrowded smuggling of these 39 migrants into the UK was “pure and utter greed”. The court heard details of how the gang smuggled more than twice the normal number of people, and about the smuggling operation in general.
Now, following the UK government’s recent consultation on immigration, new policy plans for disrupting the criminal networks behind people smuggling are being considered.
The consultation emphasised the work already being done with neighbouring countries like France and Belgium, to prevent illegal entry to the UK. The focus of Chapter 7 of the consultation is on the fact that criminals facilitating the dangerous and illegal journeys to the UK are endangering the lives of those that undertake them, and of the emergency services called out to respond to any incidents – from scenarios like the lorry smuggling above, to issues at sea that are commonly mentioned in the news.
The report calls for a breaking of the business model of the people smugglers by deterring illegal migration and strengthening the protection of our borders. This would be done by, amongst other things, introducing tougher criminal offences for those entering the UK by illegal means, and providing Border Force with additional powers to search unaccompanied containers, seize and dispose of any vessels, and stop and redirect vessels when those on board are suspected of seeking to enter the UK illegally.
It is currently a criminal offence to enter or be in the UK without status or permission. This is a summary offence carrying a maximum penalty of 6 months imprisonment with a fine. Under the new plans, the government intends to include as an offence seeking to enter the UK illegally, and also to increase the maximum penalty.
The penalties for those who facilitate illegal entry will also be increased from 14 years to life imprisonment, to reflect the need to break the business model of criminal organisations.
Many of these involved in the smuggling of the Vietnamese migrants were foreign. The government plans to deter foreign national offenders from re-entering the UK after they have been served with a deportation order by increasing the maximum sentence from 6 months to 5 years imprisonment.
There are also civil penalties given for illegal entry in some circumstances. Under the current Clandestine Entrant Civil Penalty Regime, a maximum penalty of £2,000 can be imposed for every person found on board vehicles that have not been adequately secured, and up to £4,000 where both the driver and haulier are penalised. However, this fine has been in place for nearly 20 years and in 2020 there were 1,863 cases of clandestine entry. Increased sentences are again being considered as a deterrent. Industry contact will also be made, to amend the code of practice and revise the standards of expected security levels on vehicles.
Finally, the government aims to legislate to establish and enforce Electronic Travel Authorisations – similar to the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Before a person travels to the UK for a visit, they will need to apply for permission where aspects of criminality must be self-declared. The aim is to give the UK more control of borders and is considered alongside extending the Carrier Liability Scheme, which would ensure that carriers check permission to travel before they bring an individual to the UK.
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