Romania: Illegal Migrants Blocked

A joint intelligence operation between the Romanian and British governments disrupts people-smuggling chain.

Romania: Illegal Migrants Blocked

A joint intelligence operation between the Romanian and British governments disrupts people-smuggling chain.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Romanian police working with British diplomats notched up another success in their battle against human trafficking last week with the arrest of seven Romanians suspected of running a bogus travel agency to smuggle illegal migrants into the UK.

According to the police sources, the agency furnished its clients with false documents covering proof of employment, bank accounts, ownership of property and fake British visas at a cost of between 2,500 and 3,000 US dollars. It then flew the 100 or so migrants to London where they promptly disappeared.

It was not clear how so many people managed to obtain fake documents and how they were able to evade the embassy's strict rules on visa applications.

"An investigation is underway," British Ambassador Quinton Quayle told IWPR. "It would be wrong to speculate at this stage on how the accused obtained false documents. However, we have no reason to believe that anyone from the embassy was involved.

"In fact, the visa team played a vital role in uncovering this network, demonstrating the awareness of our staff to cases of forged and counterfeit documents."

This was just the latest success of Project Reflex - a joint intelligence unit organised by the Romanian and British governments. Set up in April this year, the unit consists of a senior British police officer with international experience, an immigration officer and fifteen Romanian investigators.

Their task is to stop illegal migration not only by Romanians but also by others using this impoverished country as a transit route to Britain.

Since April, the project has helped Romanian police to identify 65 gangs and to arrest 22 would-be people smugglers.

The UK has been involved in similar Project Reflex operations in other countries to combat the drug trade. This is the first time it has been used to fight illegal migration.

British authorities are pleased about the cooperation with Bucharest. "British law enforcement officers enjoy a highly productive relationships at the political and operational level with local authorities," Ambassador Quayle told IWPR.

In the past, the number of Romanians travelling to Britain to work as prostitutes, beggars and other illegal occupations was a source of tension between the two countries.

Human trafficking has long been rife in Romania, spurred on by high unemployment. More than 50 smuggling groups were broken up last year and 260 people arrested for trying to send migrants to other parts of the Balkans and to Italy, their favourite destination.

The Romanian government only recently acknowledged that human trafficking exists. Alexandra Fracas, the deputy interior minister, said recently, "Starting this summer, we achieved the first clear results in our efforts to halt the steady flow of illegal immigrants into western Europe. Project Reflex is part of Romania's general endeavour in this direction."

London and Bucharest are ready to conclude soon a Readmission Agreement, which would open the door for the repatriation of Romanians who are staying illegally in the UK.

In recent months, the obstacles placed on entry to Britain have persuaded many economic migrants to head for France, Italy and the Scandinavian countries instead, a senior Romanian police officer, who wished to stay anonymous, told IWPR.

Another reason is that Britain still has a visa regime for Romanians and this deters many would-migrants.

London says there are no plans at this stage to lift visa requirements for Romanian citizens. "Unfortunately," said Ambassador Quayle, "at the moment, visas remain necessary because of the large number of Romanians trying to enter the UK illegally."

Marian Chiriac is an independent Bucharest-based journalist.

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