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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Common travel loophole

Crime gangs are exploiting the Irish-UK common travel area to bypass Brexit border checks

The organised crime groups are exploiting a 100-year-old agreement between Ireland and England to bypass Brexit imposed checks.

IRISH AND BRITISH police forces have begun to work together to target the illegal trade in fake documents as Ireland is being used as a backdoor into post-Brexit Britain.

The Journal has learned that organised crime groups from Georgia and Albania are running a major people-smuggling operation through Ireland for people who desperately want to get into the UK. 

Security sources have said that the crime gangs are providing forged Italian and Slovakian identity documents and, at times, fake British passports to exploit the common travel zone between Ireland and Britain.

This means that people from Albania and Georgia, predominantly, who want to get into the UK but are not able to do so legally, are paying crime groups from that country up to £5,000 to travel first to Ireland on forged identity papers and then, via the common travel area, into the UK. 

Britain’s Minister for Immigration Compliance and Justice, Chris Philips, said that UK authorities are set to draft legislation to combat the problem.  

The Common Travel Area agreement between both countries was established in 1922 and reaffirmed in 2019.

“This has a Brexit side to it. The free travel across EU borders into UK has been halted so essentially the crime groups are exploiting the Irish/UK common travel area which is in existence since the 1920s,” said a source with knowledge of the situation. 

People are being stopped at points of entry such as airports and ports by gardaí and Department of Justice staff, the source said. 

Security forces believe that the main motivation for the migrants is economic but it is also allowing some criminal elements scope to move around unchecked. 

“Once the fake documents are picked up there are two options: they are refused leave to land and they are immediately returned to the airport they originated from, or they claim asylum and the documents are sent to the Irish documents section for investigation.

“If they are sent back to their country of origin the documents are returned to that country’s authorities in the possession of the captain of the flight and the investigation takes place there. Gardaí then notify the authorities on the other side.

“The aim of all this activity for these people is to get into the UK. That is their biggest aim and border enforcement in Ireland find that it is mostly people from Albania and Georgia. The gang involved in giving the documents will give them pointers on how to get through.

“There is a lot of evidence that the ploy is for them to claim asylum when they are caught and then they disappear by skipping across the border into Northern Ireland,” the source said.

“The people who are coming in would be fairly desperate and they want to get to the UK because they see that as the promised land for them.

“The gangs are charging anything from £500 to £5000,” a source added.

Sources have said that one key failing in the system is the Interpol FIND scanner, which is used to scan passports at entry gates in airports and ports, can only detects documents that have been reported lost or stolen.

“This is a huge issue – it doesn’t detect potential forgeries, that has to be done by the officer at the desk and some of these documents would be very good fakes.  

“The new Schengen system, which allows gardaí to communicate and access Europe-wide information, may be able to deal with finding forgeries but law enforcement like this is only as good as the tools they are given.

The recent joint garda and British border enforcement operation where there were arrests in Leeds, Dublin and Wicklow is driven by British authorities who are trying to crack down on this illegal movement post-Brexit, a source explained.

In April three men were arrested under anti-organised crime legislation in raids by Garda National Immigration Bureau detectives on six properties in Dublin and Wicklow. There were simultaneous raids in the UK and it is understood it was initiated by UK intelligence.  

British authorities told The Journal that the operation on 28 April was intelligence-led and that they have charged two people in Leeds with possession of fake documents and entering the country via Ireland.

Chris Philip, the British Minister for Immigration Compliance and Justice, said that UK authorities are bringing in new laws to combat the problem.

“We are determined to go after the callous people who facilitate illegal entry into the UK. We continue to work with law enforcement agencies to ensure that those who carry out these illegal acts are put before the courts and face justice.

“As part of the New Plan for Immigration announced by the Home Secretary recently we proposed increased sentences in the UK for the facilitation of illegal entry to act as a further deterrent to these criminals,” he said.  

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