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Nearly 4,000 clandestine entrants were found trying to cross the UK’s land border in 2022, the Home Office said

Lorry drivers have criticised the government’s scheme to tackle illegal immigration via the UK’s land borders after getting fines of thousands of pounds for unknowingly carrying migrants into the country.

One logistics family business was recently fined over £60,000 after six illegal migrants hid themselves in the back of one of its trucks, according to E.M. Rogers Transport boss Ed Rogers.

“We have been fined this frankly ridiculous amount of money for honestly doing our job, alongside our driver who has been fined £36,000,” by Border Force, Rogers posted on social media.

“We are actually the victims of organised gangs that target vulnerable lorry drivers whilst they sleep. Can you imagine having your house broken into at night and then being fined for it?

“We have been operating for nearly 80 years – two years ago we were considered key workers and now, well who knows what people think of our industry,” he added.

“This is the same Border Force that can’t stop the boats we hear about arriving daily from across the Channel.”

Other drivers and logistics operators responded to Rogers’ Facebook post with similar grievances.

Many complained that the hefty fines were unfair towards drivers and operators as they were often victims of organised crime and either unknowingly or forcibly carried clandestine entrants across the border.

The fines are a result of the government’s civil penalty scheme, which was made stricter in February last year over fears that commercial drivers and private motorists were failing to adequately secure their goods vehicles.

There were 3,838 incidents where clandestine entrants were detected concealed in vehicles in the financial year 2021-2022, the Home Office said at the time – an increase of 22% from 3,145 incidents the year before.

The government said it was concerned the previous scheme was not having enough of an effect. It then increased the civil penalties from £2,000 to £10,000 per migrant.

But the Road Haulage Association, which was involved in helping to develop the checklist drivers are recommended to follow by Border Force, said “unfortunately, there are many examples where drivers and operators can do everything right and they can still be victims of criminal activity”.

“We therefore continue to seek further assurances from the government that the scheme is working as intended and that drivers and operators who’ve done all they reasonably can aren’t penalised,” a spokesperson told The Grocer.

Trade organisation Logistics UK also said it had “very recently been made aware of incidents which suggest this scheme is not working effectively or fairly”.

A spokesperson said: “Commercial drivers and, to a lesser extent, operators are also victims in this illegal activity when their vehicles are targeted.

“Drivers are not immigration officers and do not have the extensive equipment available to government staff on both sides of the border to detect the presence of people on board their vehicles.”

The group said it had “pressed government to ensure that fines were not implemented punitively on those who had taken every possible step to guard against migrant incursions” when the scheme was first introduced.

It had now raised the issue with officials and was awaiting a response, it confirmed.

Hauliers and coach operators could sign up to the Border Force-operated Civil Penalty Accreditation Scheme, through which they can prove that they consistently maintain high levels of vehicle security and therefore “reduce the risk of clandestine entry and any imposed penalty significantly”, Logistics UK noted.

“Logistics UK advises its members to join the scheme if they are transporting goods across the Channel, and distributes regular instruction to all drivers to maintain high levels of awareness when crossing the Short Straits, and only use officially sanctioned, secure parking facilities if stopping away from port areas,” the spokesperson said.

“The wider issue of migrants trying to cross the Channel to the UK is a matter for the government to address, and we would urge them to work with their French counterparts as a matter of urgency to prevent these vulnerable people continuing to put their lives at risk in order to entry the country illegally.”

A Home Office spokesperson told The Grocer this week that “far too many vehicles are not adequately secured to stop migrants boarding them”.

“That’s why we have strengthened the haulier civil penalty with significantly increased financial penalties to encourage drivers to take every reasonable step to deter illegal migration and disrupt people smugglers.”

The spokesperson added: “We are relentless in our pursuit of those who seek to enter the UK illegally, and stand ready to respond robustly to clandestine arrivals.”