More than 70 registered sex offenders from the UK have been refused entry to countries in South East Asia in the last two years.
The major campaign by the National Crime Agency (NCA) aims to stop known paedophiles abusing vulnerable children in a region long perceived as a destination of choice for sexual predators.
Speaking exclusively to Sky News, the NCA said 34 registered British sex offenders have been refused access to the Philippines since their intelligence-sharing initiative was launched in 2015.
A further 18 were refused entry to Thailand, another 18 to Cambodia and two people to India, the most recent country to join the scheme.
More countries across the region are expected to sign up to the intelligence-sharing programme in the near future.
Stephanie McCourt, the NCA’s chief liaison officer for South East Asia, told Sky News the ongoing campaign should send a clear message to registered sex offenders considering travel to the region.
“If you’re a convicted child sex offender and you are intent on travelling to a place that has vulnerabilities – and where you think you are going to get a better opportunity to offend against children – that is changing,” she said.
“There is one thing that is going to happen and one thing alone – when you turn up at their border they know who you are and they are going to send you back to the UK.
“So it’s in your interest not to bother.”
Although Sexual Harm Prevention Orders can be issued by UK courts to remove a person’s passport for up to five years, this requires police to provide specific evidence the individual intends to carry out abuse.
In many cases, registered sex offenders in the UK are allowed to travel, but are required to notify their local police force of their plans in advance.
When such notifications are received, an assessment of that travel plan is carried out by a sex offender management officer.
If there is deemed to be potential for risk, that information is forwarded to the NCA, who in turn pass it on to the immigration authorities of partner countries.
Although travel details of registered offenders are often shared with Interpol, that information is not always accessible in time for the destination country to prevent entry.
The new direct partnerships between the NCA and regional immigration authorities allow a swifter transfer of intelligence, enabling the destination country to take their own sovereign decision about whether to grant that person entry.
Ms McCourt said: “It’s not for us to decide who travels where, that’s not the job of law enforcement.
“But what is our job is to share the intelligence we have with other law enforcement agencies so that they may assess the risk which is potentially posed in their own country.
“We are seeing great success with that.”
Sky News was shown footage of a British sex offender attempting to enter the Philippines at Cebu Airport last month.
When the man arrived at immigration, the agents were already waiting for him.
Once his identity had been confirmed, he was immediately deported.
According to the Philippines Bureau of Immigration this was an example of the “zero-tolerance” approach now being taken.
Spokeswoman Tonette Mangrobang said: “As soon as that information is received we immediately include them in our alert list.
“Our officers will be on guard that when that flight comes and this passenger comes in through immigration clearance that he will be immediately stopped and asked to take the next flight out of the country.
“These people can have legitimate purposes for travelling in the country, and when you look at them you don’t immediately have a judgement on whether they are here for prostitution or other acts that are inimical to our country.
“So when we receive this information from foreign governments telling us these individuals have been registered as sex offenders or have committed crimes related to sex or things like that then it helps immediately to guard our borders.”
While all of South East Asia is considered “high-risk” as a destination for child abuse, the Philippines is of particular concern.
When tourism and widely spoken English is combined with rampant poverty, it creates a climate in which abusers are able to directly communicate with and groom vulnerable children.
According to police, this abuse is often difficult to prosecute, because in some cases foreign offenders receive protection from the families of the children being targeted.
Chief Inspector Marginette Yosores, from the Cebu Police Women and Child Protection Unit, told Sky News even a child’s own parents can act as “fixers” for foreign paedophiles.
“If the minor is still 14 or 15, often somebody provides them – the parents, because they need money,” she said.
“The foreigner grooms the family first before the child.
“The community or members of the family will tell the police ‘hey, that’s a very good man, they provide us what we want’ such as food, or money.”
It is for this reason the NCA says it is critical to assist countries in the region in preventing known offenders entering in the first place and to give the local law enforcement the resources they need to target unknown offenders who are not on the intelligence radar.
Ms McCourt said: “Let’s be under no illusion how harmful these offences are.
“If we have the opportunity to prevent that crime in the first place, by ensuring that offender and victim never meet, that is the best outcome we could offer.”
The UK’s intelligence-sharing approach to travelling sex offenders differs from that taken by some other countries.
Australia has recently passed legislation that will see about 20,000 people currently on the national child sex offenders’ register being denied a passport.
In 2016, the US started putting permanent stamps in the passports of registered child sex offenders in order to alert foreign immigration authorities when they attempt to enter a country.
But while these steps have been welcomed by child protection organisations, they have also been criticised by some human rights groups who say such blanket approaches fail to differentiate degrees of risk, or spent convictions.
In the last few years there have been a number of cases that have highlighted serious sexual offences committed by British citizens in the South East Asia.
In February, retired British teacher Mark Frost was jailed for life on 45 charges of sexual abuse against young boys in both England and Thailand, carried out over several years.
Last year, Richard Huckle was handed 22 life sentences after admitting to 71 charges of sexual abuse against children in Malaysia – his youngest victim was just six months old.