Fake EU passports provide illegals easy access to Britain
Published: Tuesday, 5 December, 2006, 09:35 AM Doha Time
LONDON: Urgent improvements to Britains border controls were demanded yesterday after a woman using fake East European passports was twice allowed entry into the country.
An investigation broadcast yesterday on BBCs Panorama programme shows one of its reporters entering Britain on the Eurostar with a stolen Estonian passport.
The woman, who managed to buy fake passports from 20 EU countries, is also seen evading detection at Portsmouths ferry terminal using a false Latvian passport. She had been advised to travel via sea or bus as security was less stringent than at airports.
The revelations will reinforce fears about the security of EU passports – which guarantee the holder the right to travel freely to the UK – and vindicate claims that forgeries are easily available in some countries.
The Home Office said checks at airports and ports were continually being tightened through better technology. But shadow immigration minister Damien Green said the BBC had exposed holes in border controls which would be exploited by criminals.
He said he would table Parliamentary questions calling on the Home Office to explain how it failed to detect the fake passports and how it would tackle the flaws.
“It appears to be easy to buy passports from almost any EU country and the fact that a stolen passport could be used to get through the Eurostar checks is particularly disturbing.
“Eurostar and the main airports are where all the latest technology is, so the fact that the checks could be evaded tests to destruction the idea that our passport system is working.”
Green said there was widespread anecdotal evidence of fake East European passports, which he said were “particularly vulnerable” to abuse by non-EU citizens from the former Soviet republics. The risk was that this would let in many dangerous individuals.
He added: “It is clearly easy for criminals to get into this country. The public will want to know what the government proposes to do to tackle this.”
In the documentary, reporter Shahida Tulaganov paid between 250 and 1,500 for the fake passports. She acquired her first from a dealer in London whom she contacted via a Russian language newspaper. He provided her with a genuine Czech passport, by getting someone who looked like her to apply using her photo.
She obtained other forged or stolen passports from countries including Spain, France, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Lithuania and Poland. She said her findings suggest large numbers of illegal immigrants could have entered Britain on false documents.
“Since Poland joined the EU less than two years ago a quarter of a million Poles have registered for work in Britain,” she said. “But if my contacts are right, many of these may not have been Poles at all, but illegal immigrants using fake passports.”
Details of the stolen passport Tulaganov used on the Eurostar should have been on an Interpol database, but no record was apparently found by immigration officers.
The government can insist on the use of biometric visas and other checks for travellers from outside the EU, but it is forced to grant free travel to any EU passport holder.
This means any EU country where passport security is weak, or where records of stolen documents are poor, can be targeted by those seeking to enter the UK unlawfully.
The Home Office said its latest annual figures showed 8,285 fraudulent documents had been detected at UK ports of entry. It said immigration officers received intensive training on how to spot fake or stolen passports.
A spokeswoman added: “We are constantly rolling out new technology to detect forgeries.” London Evening Standard