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Illegal migrants and people smuggling gangs taking advantage of weaknesses at UK ports, watchdog finds

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weaknesses at UK ports

A new report from Britain’s Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has warned that illegal migrants and people trafficking gangs may be exploiting staff shortages at sea ports in the south of England.

In his report, David Bolt reveals that Border Force officers told him the agency was “resourced to fail”, with borders “not secured by any stretch of the imagination” due to shortages at Dover, Portsmouth, Southampton and Poole.

Bolt found that Border Force staff routinely fail to search vehicles with blacked-out windows, and that customs officers feel illegal migrants are armed with better intelligence then they are, giving them the upper hand as they attempt to sneak into the UK unnoticed.

Government inspectors found Border Force staff regularly fail to search the boots of vehicles that pass through ports in the south of England, and that in some cases checks are not carried out due to a lack of staff who are able operate vehicle scanners.

In some cases, ferries travelling to the UK from Europe are able to land at ports that are not even staffed with Border Force officials.

Customs staff said they were confident that illegal migrants and smuggling gangs were using their knowledge of weaknesses in border control on the south coast of England to their advantage.

Border Force managers said staff shortages had impacted the agency’s ability to undertake core functions, while officers told inspectors there was too few of them to meet increasing operational demands.

Bolt’s report revealed that the number of clandestine entry attempts detected at south coast ports fell from 1,119 in 2016-2017 to 882 in 2017-2018.

While accepting that the UK’s looming exit from the European Union was making life harder for Border Force employees, Bolt commented: “[I]t is difficult to escape the impression that Border Force believes it knows best and will make changes only on its own terms and at its own pace.

“During 2019-20, I had planned to complete my series of seaport and coastline inspections with an inspection of the west coast. The responses to the south coast seaports inspection, and the timescales quoted, suggest that I may need to rethink this.”

In June, Border Force said it was recruiting 1,000 officers nationally to “meet normal staff turnover”, as well as an additional 300 frontline officers ahead of Brexit.

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Iran threatens to flood Europe with drugs and migrants following US sanctions

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Iran threatens to flood Europe with drugs

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has threatened to flood Europe with heroin, migrants and terrorists in revenge for sanctions imposed on the country by the US over Tehran’s nuclear weapons programme.

Addressing a six-nation counter-terrorism conference in Tehran attended by lawmakers from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, China and Russia over the weekend, Rouhani told delegates that crippling US sanctions would prevent Iran’s security services from stopping drug traffickers and people smugglers targeting western countries, noting how the criminal groups behind such trades are often linked to terrorist groups.

In a speech that was carried by state TV, Rouhani said: “Weakening Iran by sanctions, many will not be safe. Those who do not believe us, it is good to look at the map.”

He added: “Imagine what a disaster there would be if there is a breach in the dam.

“I warn those who impose sanctions that if Iran’s ability to fight drugs and terrorism are affected…, you will not be safe from a deluge of drugs, asylum seekers, bombs and terrorism.”

While Iran is by no means a major drug-producing nation, large quantities of opium pass through the country on major smuggling routes that link Afghanistan and Pakistan with Europe.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, the primary ingredient of heroin, with Helmand Province, which is close to the border with Iran, being the country’s largest opium-producing region.

Iran claims to incinerate around 100 tonnes of seized drugs every year as a symbol of its determination to halt the flow of narcotics through trafficking routes that cross its borders.

In June 2017, Iranian media reported that drug addiction across the country had more than doubled over the previous six years, with research showing that approximately 2.8 million Iranians were regularly consuming drugs.

Iran also serves as a major hub on a number of people smuggling routes used by migrants looking to make their way to Turkey.

Many of these asylum seekers pay large sums of money to people smuggling gangs, some of which are thought to be closely linked to terrorist organisations.

Over recent weeks, scores of mostly Iranian migrants have been picked in flimsy boats while attempting to cross the English Channel from the French border town of Calais.

Rouhani said worsening economic conditions in Iran brought about by the sanctions had led to an increase in the number of migrants illegally crossing the border from Iran into Turkey since the summer.

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Customs officers on US-Mexico border intercept multiple shipments of methamphetamine worth more than $1.2 million

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methamphetamine worth more than $1.2 million

US customs officers in California yesterday said they had arrested multiple people on suspicion of smuggling methamphetamine into the US at an immigration checkpoint close to the Mexican border over the weekend.

In the first incident, officials from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pulled over an unlicensed taxi carrying a female passenger on Saturday morning.

The vehicle was referred for a detailed inspection, during which a sniffer dog alerted officers to the possibility of drugs being present around the passenger side of the vehicle.

After asking the female passenger to step out of the taxi, officers discovered three packages of suspected methamphetamine weighing approximately 1.8kgs strapped to her stomach.

Later on Saturday, a female driver was stopped in a Nissan Altima.

During a secondary search of her vehicle, sniffer dogs alerted their handlers to 17 packages of suspected methamphetamine weighing more than 10kgs wrapped in brown tape close to the dashboard.

On Sunday morning, a US woman who approached the checkpoint in a Nissan Altima was found by customs officers to be carrying several packages containing suspected methamphetamine weighing nearly 26kgs hidden beneath the vehicle’s floorboard.

A few hours later on Sunday evening, another unlicensed taxi that approached the checkpoint was referred for further inspection.

This resulted in the discovery of a black package containing nearly 1.5kgs of suspected methamphetamine strapped to the stomach of a 16-year-old US citizen.

The drugs in all of the packages, which tests later confirmed contained methamphetamine, had a combined weight of nearly 40kgs, and an estimated value of $228,085.

Commenting on the seizures, Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez said: “Our Border Patrol agents from the Indio Station did an outstanding job of interdicting almost 90 pounds of methamphetamine over the weekend.

“Drug smugglers going through our checkpoints will be caught and charged to the fullest extent of the law.”

Separately, the CBP on Monday announced that its officers had intercepted methamphetamine with an estimated street value of more than $992,000 at the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge in Texas.

The drugs were confiscated on Saturday from a 40-year-old Mexican woman driving a 2012 Nissan Versa.

She was found to be carrying more than 22kgs of methamphetamine before being handed over to agents from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for further investigation.

“I congratulate our frontline officers for their firm commitment to carry out the CBP mission and protect the public from illegal narcotics,” said Port Director Albert Flores, Laredo Port of Entry.

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Police in Europe arrest hundreds in operation targeting euro banknote dark web counterfeiters

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euro banknote dark web counterfeiters

Police forces across Europe have participated in a major joint operation targeting euro banknote counterfeiters operating on dark web illicit marketplaces.

A series of Europol-backed days of action, which took place from 19 November to 6 December, involved raids on more than 300 properties in 13 countries, resulting in the arrests of 235 suspects.

During the raids, a number of criminal assets were seized, including €1,500 (£1,713) in cash, a quantity of drugs, electronic devices including smartphones and computers, Bitcoin, and equipment that had been used for the mining of cryptocurrencies.

A number of weapons were also confiscated during the raids, including guns, knives and nunchaku.

German investigators involved in the operation also discovered two cannabis factories, while police in France uncovered an illegal euro counterfeiting print shop, as well as a marijuana planation.

The crackdown was launched after police in Austria dismantled an illegal banknote print shop in the city of Leoben in June of this year.

The owner of the shop is said to have been producing bogus euro banknotes of various denominations before offering them for sale on dark web marketplaces.

It is thought the Austrian counterfeiter sold some 10,000 fake banknotes to customers all over Europe.

After being handed evidence seized during the raid in Austria, Europol analysed data obtained from the alleged counterfeiter’s computer and decided to launch a coordinated operation targeting other bogus banknote traders in a number of EU countries, including Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.

Congratulating officers who took part in the operation, Europol Deputy Executive Director of Operations Wil van Gemert said in a statement: “This joint effort highlights that complete anonymity on the internet and the dark net doesn’t exist.

“When you engage in illegal activity online, be prepared to have police knocking on your door sooner or later.

“Europol will continue to assist member states in their efforts of protecting the euro against counterfeiting, both in the real world as in the virtual one.”

Back in September, Europol announced that Polish police had taken down an illegal print shop in Gdansk that had been producing fake €50 banknotes.

The law enforcement agency said the alleged owner of the facility had been selling counterfeits on a number of dark web platforms for many years, and had built up a strong reputation.

He is currently facing up to 25 years behind bars.

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