30 April 2012

UKBA refuses to apologise over UK immigration delays

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The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has instructed border staff at Heathrow Airport to stop apologising for UK immigration delays.

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The UKBA's ability to properly protect the border during the upcoming Olympic Games has been thrown into doubt.

UK immigration staff at Heathrow had been handing out leaflets apologising to passengers waiting in lengthy queues for the delay. However, the UKBA has described the leaflets as 'inappropriate' and ordered them to stop being handed out.

Tensions over lengthy queues at Britain's airports, particularly Heathrow, have risen in recent weeks after border check policy came under increased scrutiny when it came to light passport checks had been suspended at peak times during last summer. The so-called 'borders fiasco', combined with the upcoming Olympic Games and the associated burden, have meant border queues have been the subject of much debate.

As queues lengthened once more over the Easter period and subsequent weeks, the British Airport Authority had attempted to diffuse the growing tension in excessive queues by handing out a leaflet informing passengers they 'deserved a warmer welcome' and advised disgruntled passengers to complain to the Home Office.

However, the UKBA's director, Marc Owen, has ordered the leaflets to be ceased, claiming ministers would take 'a very dim view' of their distribution.

In a letter obtained by the Daily Telegraph, Mr Owen said: "The leaflet is both inflammatory and likely to increase tensions in arrivals halls especially in the current atmosphere.

"It is inappropriate in that it is not for you to display how to complain on our behalf.

"Please refrain from handing out [the leaflets] or I will escalate [the issue] with ministers who are likely to take a very dim view. I know there are copies in the hall and your troops are ready with them."

Mr Owen also advised immigration staff to prevent passengers taking pictures of the queues as many have ended up on social networking sites, drawing more attention to the problem.

Labour politicians have jumped on the leaked email to accuse the Government of covering up mishandling of the UK's borders, Jim Fitzpatrick, Labour's aviation spokesperson and former cabinet minister said:

"This is a pure cover-up. I can understand people wanting to take pictures of the queues. This is further evidence of Border Force trying to hide the severity o the problem.

"Passengers need to know how to register complaints and for Border Force to try to prevent them from doing so is outrageous."

This latest revelation comes as UK immigration authorities attempt to convince both ministers and the public that the border is up to the task of maintaining security during the Olympic Games. The single largest complaint has been the lack of immigration staff to man the border checks during peak times yet today it was announced former immigration officials will come out of retirement to boost staff numbers during the Games.

 


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