AN OPEN DOOR TO ILLEGAL MIGRANTS; Cuts Make Scotland's Ports an Easy Target; Unguarded Door for Illegal Immigrants; Withdrawal of Customs Officers at Two Ferry Ports Makes Scotland an Easy Target for Terrorists and Drug Smugglers

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Byline: Patricia Kane

ILLEGAL immigrants are flooding into the UK by the 'back door' through two Scottish ferry ports where customs officers have been axed.

A Scottish Mail on Sunday investigation has uncovered the route used by a string of foreign nationals - many of them on fake passports from countries which pose a significant security risk to Britain.

It is feared scores of immigrants have managed to enter Britain illegally through Stranraer and Cairnryan ferry ports in the last two months, since customs officers were withdrawn.

Local police are now responsible for patrolling the ports and have arrested 20 suspected illegal immigrants in the past few weeks.

But for every individual caught, insiders warn that others are getting through because over-stretched police officers are now having to provide immigration cover on top of their own counter terrorist duties at the Galloway ports.

Figures show 20 recent arrests by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary's ports unit.

Of those, 14 were attempting to gain entry illegally to mainland UK, most using false ID after travelling from Northern Ireland by ferry.

Two individuals - including one from the Middle East and one from South America - have appeared at Stranraer Sheriff Court in the last few days in separate cases relating to alleged illegal entry.

The MoS can reveal the route used by the immigrants to gain entry to Britain begins at Dublin Airport, where they arrive posing as tourists visiting Ireland, before boarding buses north to Belfast and Larne, from which ferries sail to Scotland.

Last night, one source told the MoS: 'The UK Border Agency (UKBA) made no secret of the fact it was withdrawing its officers from these ports because of cost-cutting.

'It's as if it sent out a "Welcome to the UK" message, and more illegal immigrants than ever appear to be taking up the invitation. It's the police who've now been left to deal with it.'

A review of the current system is expected next month after senior officers expressed grave concerns about the UKBA decision to pull out of the ports, which have an estimated two million people passing through them each year. Meetings have also been held with Home Secretary Theresa May to discuss the UK's apparent vulnerability on the Northern Ireland routes.

An anomaly in the Republic of Ireland's visa system has meant the Scottish ports have been seen for some time as an easy target.

But now the pressure has increased in recent weeks, with twice as many illegal entrants being dealt with since the beginning of December compared to the same period 12 months earlier. Police figures show that for the two months December 2009 and January 2010, seven people were caught entering the UK illegally at the Galloway ports but, a year later, that figure has doubled to 14.

Insiders claim this is because more people than ever before are trying to gain entry now that they know UKBA has had no presence there since November 23, 2010.

The UKBA claims it was forced to withdraw funding for its three officers at both ports in order to meet swingeing public sector cuts ordered by the Westminster coalition government.

The problem is exacerbated by less strict immigration regulations in the Republic of Ireland, which allow foreign nationals from a large number of countries to be granted seven-day visitor visas on arrival at Dublin airport, allowing them to tour the Emerald Isle.

Many are then making their way to Belfast unhindered by any further checks and are boarding ferries for the Scottish ports, which police chiefs and customs bosses have acknowledged are an exit and entry point for criminals and immigrants .

One case, in 2009, involved a Bolivian woman, Norilda Ortiz, 47, who was stopped at Stranraer and found to have cocaine worth almost [pounds sterling]350,000 in her possession. …