TWO-THIRDS of failed asylum seekers investigated so far this year under a new agreement with the UK were found to be involved in identity swapping, the Irish Independent has learnt.
Cross-checks carried out by gardai using British fingerprint records revealed that about 1,300 out of 2,000 failed asylum seekers investigated were known to Britain's Border Agency under a different name.
Of those looked at, about a third had given a different nationality to the UK authorities.
The scale of the identity swapping scam was uncovered under a data sharing plan, which is a key feature of a common travel area agreement signed by Ireland and Britain last Christmas.
The aim of the data sharing is to unearth previously undisclosed UK immigration histories that could help the Irish authorities in processing the cases of failed asylum seekers, a senior official told the Irish Independent last night.
He said this information was vital in helping to determine whether a deportation order should be issued against an applicant.
Of the 2,000 asylum seekers investigated, cross-checks found 600 had already been identified by UK agencies either as asylum shoppers with previous applications to the UK or as previous British visa seekers.
In the majority of fingerprint matches, those claiming asylum in Ireland had already been granted UK visas.
The official added that more than 80 people who had claimed asylum here as Somalis had previously been granted a UK visa using a Tanzanian identity.
They operated by turning up at the British visa office in Dar es Salaam to have their photographs and fingerprints taken and to submit their Tanzanian passports for inspection. The passports were then determined to be valid.
This allowed them to fly to Britain on a valid visa and they then arrived here and claimed asylum, some on the grounds that they were facing persecution in Somalia.
With the help of the fingerprint checks, authorities in Dublin have been able to challenge such applicants on the basis they had been officially recognised as Tanzanians by the British.
Some of them are thought to have used the UK as a back door to Ireland while others were involved in asylum shopping, which involves moving between EU countries to establish where the best benefits lie.
The official explained: "The UK information is very useful for challenging an applicant's credibility and re-documenting persons for removal as the UK is able to provide us with copies of passports."
Already this year, seven failed asylum seekers have been deported to Tanzania after they had claimed asylum here as Somalis.
"This is only the tip of the iceberg", the official predicted last night, "as the measure has not been in force for very long."
At present, details of Irish visa applications lodged in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Pakistan are also being referred to Britain for cross-reference against their immigration databases.
The results of the checks show that a large portion of applicants have what officials describe as an adverse or negative UK immigration history.
These include some who had been previously refused a visa and others who had been deported or had previously been refused permission to enter Britain at its airports.
Checks on about 5,000 visa applications have identified almost 600 people applying to come to Ireland with a negative UK immigration history.