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Volume 410: debated on Monday 18 August 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he is taking to protect the United Kingdom from the use of illicit passports. [128663]

The United Kingdom has a range of measures aimed at preventing people using forged or improperly obtained documents entering the country. These include a network of Airline Liaison Officers overseas, a comprehensive visa strategy, international co-operation, development of expertise within the Immigration Service and special exercises.In the UK, the lead is taken by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate National Forgery Unit (NFU) who have links with other agencies including the police. The NFU provides equipment, training and intelligence to immigration officers in the UK, and to those serving abroad, including Airline Liaison Officers. Immigration officers, specially trained in forgery detection work, are based at all UK ports. 9,664 fraudulent documents were detected at UK ports in 2002, an increase of 46 per cent. over 2001.The NFU organises regular exercises targeting specific documents, which show a high rate of recorded abuse, and these have proven particularly effective. NFU also have a permanent presence at IND's main offices in Croydon, where they examine documents submitted in support of applications for leave to remain. In 2002, a total of 461 fraudulent documents was detected there.As part of its external borders policy, the UK maintains a network of 25 Airline Liaison Officers at key locations abroad. They offer advice, training and expertise to airlines, to help prevent the carriage of inadequately documented passengers to the UK. British immigration officers are now working alongside their French counterparts in Calais, offering advice on the validity of travel documents. The UK also works closely with the EU and G8 states, exchanging information and expertise to combat passport abuse.