Want to get into the UK illegally – just hop aboard a Eurostar train at Liile and take an easy ride straight into Central London in two hours. And don’t worry about UK Border Agency passport checks at the port, the extremely helpful Belgian Police will arrest British border staff if they dare to question you.
Illegal immigrants could be slipping in to Britain on the Eurostar because of a loophole that allows them to travel without any passport check, the Telegraph reports.
Free movement rules between Belgium and France mean passengers travelling from Brussels to the Eurostar destination Lille do not go through passport control.
But there is nothing to stop them staying on the train to London. Some 300 people were caught trying to do just that in the last year alone.
Full passport checks could now be introduced at St Pancras station in London, where the Eurostar service terminates.
The prospect was raised after Damian Green, the immigration minister, admitted the Government was powerless to close the so-called “Lille loophole” in Brussels without agreement with Belgium.
In an added farce, immigration officers in Brussels have reportedly been threatened with arrest after challenging suspect passengers to Lille.
It comes as the Home Office is still reeling from the scandal that some border checks had been scrapped at airports and ports against the wishes of ministers.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said he was “astonished” by the “most unsatisfactory” situation, adding: “If a simple railway ticket can give you entry into the UK, this is a cause for real concern.”
The loophole centres on the Schengen agreement signed between a number of European countries, including France and Belgium, which allows people to cross borders without passport checks.
The UK is not in the agreement can therefore check the passports of passengers travelling here.
As a result there are two gates for Eurostar trains in Brussels, one for those going to Lille, which does not have passport checks, and one for the UK, which does.
It means an individual could buy two tickets and then pass through the Lille gate but stay on the train to London without having their passport examined.
In evidence to the home affair committee, Jonathan Sedgwick, international group director of the UK Border Agency, admitted: “It is perfectly possible that people in some circumstances can get through.”
He said in the last year 140 people had been removed from the train at Lille and 160 had been stopped at St Pancras.
Belgian Police assist illegal immigrant to get into the UK
In June, an illegal immigrant was arrested after stepping off a Eurostar train carrying Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who was returning from inspecting border controls in Calais.
The Moroccan man, believed to be in his twenties, was held after UK Border Agency officers made a “sweep” of the train as Mrs May returned to London.
Sporadic passport checks are carried out at St Pancras but Mr Sedgwick signalled they could now become the norm.
Asked if they were to be stepped up here, he said: “We intend to introduce tighter controls overall, yes.”
The move may be the only way to close the gap after Mr Green said rules around Schengen meant changes in Brussels could only be made with negotiation.
He said: “It’s one of those things that the British Government can’t solve on its own … that has to be solved in negotiations and that’s what we’re now doing.
“There are strict British immigration controls in place in France and Belgium and we have UK Border Agency officers based at St Pancras to target those we believe are intent on entering Britain illegally.
“We are currently working closely with our Belgian counterparts and Eurostar to resolve this as quickly as possible.”
Border force staff have also been threatened with arrest by the Belgian police for trying to close the loophole, emails seen by BBC Radio 4’s The Report programme showed.
One officer, who tried to question two people suspected of trying to take advantage of the loophole, was told by Belgian police: “This has got to stop, you are not in Britain now, you are in Schengen. If they make a complaint, you will be arrested.”
Another UKBA officer warned that staff were so scared of being arrested by the Belgian police that they “will now turn a blind eye to potential Lille loopholers”. Source: The Telegraph.
BBC Radio 4’s The Report programme investigated this gaping loophole, as apparently no passport checks are made at both Lille and, surprisingly, at the final destination at London St Pancras.
It is common knowledge that Belgium and France are quite happy to allow immigrants who are in their countries illegally (usually with no passport or documents) to pass through to ‘destination UK’ and let the British authorities deal with the problem.
The British border police have been forced to set up their own border checks in France because the French were waving people through the channel tunnel directly from a camp set up close to Calais.
But in this case the Belgian authorities are going much further by knowingly aiding and abetting illegal immigration into an EU partner country.
UK Border Agency officers were threatened with arrest for doing their job because they are in ‘Schengen’? Is Schengen a country now?
Airlines are heavily fined if they carry a visa national passenger into the UK without a visa. Even truck drivers are fined thousands of pounds if an illegal immigrant jumps on the back of his lorry. What will happen to Eurostar?
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