People smugglers are “abusing” soft border controls between Ireland and the UK to get their human cargo past authorities, the National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned.
Officials told The Independent they were concerned about an increase in the number of gangs found to be working through the common travel area, which the government has said it wants to maintain after Brexit.
Passports are not currently required for British and Irish citizens travelling between the two countries, and although air and sea carriers say they require some form of identification, documents are not always checked.
In January, six Indian nationals were arrested as they attempted to board flights to the UK from Ireland using counterfeit passports supplied by a man in Dublin.
In another recent case, a gang stands accused of smuggling people from Georgia into Britain from Ireland, while a Vietnamese group was found to be trafficking workers into nail bars along the same route and several factories producing counterfeit documents have been seized.
Tom Dowdall, deputy director of the NCA who leads on human trafficking, said organised crime groups are “changing their modus operandi”.
“People from eastern Europe and further afield are coming into the UK via the common travel area through the Republic of Ireland,” he said.
“Some are flying into Ireland and travelling into the UK by air or ferry, and we have also seen coaches going to Ireland.”
In several cases discovered so far, gangs have been giving migrants fake passports, with some instructed to destroy them mid-flight to cover their tracks.
Earlier this year the NCA led an international operation that saw 12 members of a gang arrested for providing false documents and cash from a factory in eastern Europe.
In the Georgia case, migrants were allegedly given forged identity papers that allowed them to work in Britain.
Officials are monitoring a wider flow of clandestine Georgian migrants since the European parliament voted to allow them to travel into the Schengen zone without visas last year.
“They would fly into Dublin and seek asylum in the knowledge that they would not be detained before any onward movement into the UK,” an NCA official said.
The agency says it is also aware of groups who exploit the common travel area by giving illegal migrants false evidence of a history of living in Ireland, and therefore allowing them to enter Britain.
“Certain nationalities are already coming into the UK inadequately documented,” Mr Dowdall said. “They get on a plane with documents but come off without, they destroy them. Iranians are paying £20,000 to £30,000 to get to the UK. It’s a very expensive way of doing it.”