With the Olympics just weeks away, UK immigration is completely focussed on presenting an atmosphere of welcome and success to the world but with overly excessive queues at the country's border still dominating news reports, that image is threatening to be undermined while a Saudi royal's fears threaten to engulf the Government in a diplomatic row.
Staff in UK immigration halls had previously banned passengers queuing for security checks from taking pictures of the extensive queues that have featured in news reports in recent months but attempting to keep the problem under wraps has failed miserably.
Saudi Arabian Princess Sara bint Talal bin Abdulaziz is attempting to claim asylum in the UK over fears she will be harmed if she returns home...read more.
Passport officials at the country's borders have requested extra security after disgruntled passengers tried to 'storm' UK immigration controls and began a 'slow clap' to agitate staff...read more.
Immigration Minister Damian Green has said queuing times at the UK border, particularly at Heathrow, aren't perfect but are 'acceptable'...read more.
A new scheme aimed at easing the lengthy queues and delays in UK visa checks involves allowing citizens of 'low risk' countries to go through fast-track lanes...read more.
The head of the UK Border Force Brian Moore has said he intends to step down from his position after the London Olympics has concluded...read more
Saudi princess claims asylum in the UK
The current King of Saudi
Arabia, Abdullah bin
Abdulaziz al Saud is Princess
Saudi Arabian Princess Sara bint Talal bin Abdulaziz is attempting to claim asylum in the UK over fears she will be harmed if she returns home.
Princess Sara, the granddaughter of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's first king and daughter of one of his most prominent sons, has accused senior Saudi officials of attempting to kidnap her to force her to return home.
Princess Sara has lived in the UK since 2007 and lives an outgoing life; she refuses to wear a veil and is nicknamed the 'Barbie princess' in her home country.
"They called me the little Barbie as I was like this cute little girl who had everything," said the princess.
"My branch of the family was always different from the rest of Al Saud - open, controversial and diverse. We celebrate Christmas."
However, with such a large and ambitious royal family - Princess Sara's grandfather, King Abdulaziz, had 45 sons - tensions within the country's ruling family spring up frequently.
Princess Sara claims her inheritance of her mother's £325 million fortune was impeded and has complained publicly about the matter. Saudi officials have requested her return to Riyadh to discuss her grievances but after a fallout with her father, Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, Princess Sara says she is scared to return home.
"Everything goes back to a certain aspect that I don't discuss in public. Something happened with my father and he didn't take it lightly," she said.
"He retaliated against me and wanted to crush me. I had been his closest; I had been his favourite. It shook my world."
Now her grievances have been made public, Princess Sara says she can't return to Saudi Arabia.
"I am very scared right now. They know I can't go back now. There is a threat. That's a slap in the face of the Kingdom.
"I've been physically abused, I've been mentally abused, my assets have been frozen. I've been crucified in every way."
The Home Office was informed of her intention to claim asylum in the UK. While the Government is bound to keep foreign nationals out of harm's way, the high publicity of such a claim threatens to ignite a diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia.
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UK immigration security boost after ‘slow clap’
Passengers in UK immigration
halls have been unsettling
staff by 'slow clapping'.
Passport officials at the country's borders have requested extra security after disgruntled passengers tried to 'storm' UK immigration controls and began a 'slow clap' to agitate staff.
Excessive queuing times at the country's borders has been an ongoing issue for the past few months and, with the Olympics just weeks away, the problem is beginning to become desperate.
The Home Secretary Theresa May and Immigration Minister Damian Green have repeatedly said the issue would be dealt with by the start of the Games but with queues still stretching as long as half a mile and wait times up to three hours, passengers are beginning to lose patience.
"We are seeing public order issues in queues, including slow hand-clapping, abuse of staff and attempts to storm the controls, with people just trying to walk through without being checked, particularly at desks that are not manned," said Lucy Moreton of the Immigration Services Union.
Keith Vaz MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, yesterday said he was 'appalled' by the length of time people were expected to wait.
"It is now two months since the immigration minister promised additional resources and better management," said Mr Vaz.
"The worst aspect was that half of the immigration desks were simply not opened, even though the Border Force had prior knowledge of all flight arrivals."
Ms Moreton said staff would be receiving extra security to ensure that tensions within immigration halls do not boil over.
"They have negotiated Heathrow for extra police to be around the halls. People want them to be more visible and to be sure that they can be quickly moved to areas where staff fear trouble. There are fears of public disorder."
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Damian Green says UK immigration queues are 'acceptable'
Immigration Minister Damian
Green says queues at the
border are acceptable.
Immigration Minister Damian Green has said queuing times at the UK border, particularly at Heathrow, aren't perfect but are acceptable.
Mr Green was speaking before the Home Affairs Select Committee whose chair, Labour MP Keith Vaz, had visited Heathrow and observed queuing times which he described as 'appalling'.
However, the immigration minister has rebuffed these claims, saying that the queuing times were 'acceptable' for now and would improve when the Olympics get underway with 500 extra members of staff scheduled to help with the influx of visitors.
"Once the Olympics start, every desk will be manned at peak times," said Mr Green, adding that he visited Heathrow before 7.30am, a similar time to Mr Vaz, and about 80% of the desks for non-EU passengers were manned.
The minister said the wait times he observed were over the 45 minutes target, but that they remained under an hour during his visit.
"Forty five minutes is acceptable," he said, "it has got better than it was in April, May or June but it is not perfect."
In contrast, Mr Vaz said during his visit half the passport checking desks were closed.
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New fast-track lanes to ease UK immigration congestion
Citizens from the US, Australia,
Canada, Australia and New
Zealand will soon be able to use
A new scheme aimed at easing the lengthy queues and delays in UK immigration halls involves allowing citizens of 'low risk' countries to go through fast-track lanes.
Reports of queues stretching half a mile and taking up to three hours have plagued UK immigration authorities in recent months and, with the Olympic Games just weeks away, the Government has come under criticism from all sides.
Immigration Minister Damian Green appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee to defend the queuing lengths, admitting that while they were not perfect, they were 'acceptable'.
Mr Green also took the opportunity to announce that after the Games were over, citizens of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and America will be able to pass through border control quicker in new fast-track lanes.
A similar plan was piloted last year but was not successful; however, Mr Green maintains that the scheme was conducted 'intermittently' which left passengers unsure of where to go and cancelled out any benefits the expedient lanes produced.
The minister's new plan has also attracted significant criticism from those who claim it discriminates against passengers from other countries.
"This is a list of wealthy countries with links to the UK," said Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.
"It is based on wealth and trade links and it discriminates against people from the developing world, parts of which we have very strong links with and aspire to foster better relations."
Mr Green dismissed the criticism, citing the countries listed are already prioritised as citizens of those countries don't require a UK visa to enter the country.
"The idea of differentiating people so that those who don't need visas, and therefore already we feel more confident about them than those who we do require visas from, to have them in separate lanes in the airport is something work looking at."
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UK immigration chief to step down
The head of the UK Border Force Brian Moore has said he intends to step down from his position after the London Olympics has concluded.
The UK Border Force was formed as a separate part of the UK Border Agency after last summer's border fiasco when UK immigration checks were foregone for expediency.
It was hoped that the Border Force would better be able to police the borders but reports of lengthy queues taking up to three hours to navigate have not abated and Mr Moore has come under increased fire.
Mr Moore, who was on secondment from Wiltshire Police who was paying his £133,000 a year salary, was criticised by his own staff for prioritising uniform discipline over the worsening situation at checking desks.
His resignation was confirmed by Immigration Minister Damian Green.
"He has decided to do what he was brought in to do, be the interim head on secondment," Mr Green told the Home Affairs Select Committee.
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- Dominic Ladden-Powell is the Online Editor for the UK Visa Bureau.
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