SOFT BORDER: Northern Ireland is a new entry point to the UK for people smugglers
IRELAND is becoming the new weak link for people smugglers to get illegal immigrants into the UK, officials have warned.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) is monitoring travel from the Republic of Ireland into the UK and from Northern Ireland into the rest of the kingdom after it was flagged as an area of concern.
It stems from Ireland and the UK being in a common travel area with no checks on goods or travellers.
Human traffickers will charge would-be illegal immigrants up to £10,000 to be smuggled in via the route, which is seen as having lax border controls, often using forced EU travel documents.
EASY: Illegal immigrants fly into Dublin from Europe
Known as the "Irish Route," immigrants are flown from Paris to Dublin, then they are driven to the Northern Irish border to take ferries from Belfast to Glasgow.
Once there they can head anywhere in the UK.
The brazen plot has been nicknamed the ‘Irish route’ because after a swift passport check in Dublin, it is the last time documents are shown before getting into Britain.
Tom Dowdall, NCA deputy director of organised immigration crime, said: "We are looking at routes from the Republic of Ireland to the UK as we have seen evidence of these routes being used.
"The level of border control between the republic and the UK is rather different that that of other countries and we have seen some evidence of that being abused by migrant smugglers.
FERRY: They are then driven to Belfast to catch boats over to Scotland
"They are largely from eastern Europe and Asia and move to the UK via Irish sea ports or fly to the UK or move across the land border with Northern Ireland and can then come to mainland UK because it is not an international border."
After Brexit next year the "soft border" is likely to remain, meaning it could become a key route for people smugglers the NCA fears.
Chris Hogben, NCA head of operations for organised immigration crime, is concerned Brexit could also hamper existing arrangements with Europol, intelligence sharing and European arrest warrants.
He said: "It may be that we have to set up bilateral agreements with individual countries."
The people smuggling industry is believed to be worth around £6 billion annually.
Most migrants pay gangs at least £6,000 to travel to Europe.