Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Now It's Passport Control on Tube; STANDARD REVEALS OPERATION TO QUESTION 'FOREIGN-SOUNDING' COMMUTERS

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Now It's Passport Control on Tube; STANDARD REVEALS OPERATION TO QUESTION 'FOREIGN-SOUNDING' COMMUTERS

Article excerpt

Byline: LUKE DAVID

IMMIGRATION officers are questioning Tube travellers because they sound "foreign", the Evening Standard has learned.

Thousands of passengers are being stopped in a secret operation using tactics the police are specifically forbidden from deploying. Immigration officers are stopping anyone they consider to look or sound foreign and asking them to produce their papers to prove their right to British residence.

Their aim is uncover illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers. The discovery that these tactics are being used prompted a political row today.

The Liberal Democrats are set to write to the Home Secretary demanding an explanation for a scheme civil-rights groups dubbed "Stalinist".

The existence of the spot-check operation has been kept secret by the Home Office but an Evening Standard investigation discovered that teams of immigration officers have been carrying out the procedures since May 2003.

It is part of a wider programme in which 1,000 suspected illegal immigrants have been detained.

During one operation witnessed by the Evening Standard, a series of people getting off Tube trains were stopped by immigration officers dressed in body armour and carrying handcuffs.

The officer in charge said people were picked out for questioning if they sounded foreign.

Immigration officer Emma Cromack said: "If you hear someone speaking a language that's not European we approach them and ask 'do you mind if I ask you what nationality you are?' "If they get upset or start acting suspiciously we ask the police to assist and demand identification."

Onlookers said they were shocked when they saw the operation at Harrow-on-the-Hill station shortly before the evening rush hour.

Ellen Cook, 23, an admin assistant, said: "They are assuming if people look different they should be harassed. It's despicable."

Today the Home Office faced a barrage of criticism over the tactics. Police are specifically forbidden by Home Office guidelines from stopping people because of their accent or appearance. …

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