Smugglers sentenced to prison by French court

A French court has sentenced two Iraqis and an Iranian man for migrant smuggling across the English Channel on 1 March 2019.

A 32-year-old Iraqi, considered the group leader, received an 18-month sentence from the court in Boulogne Sur-Mer, on the northern French coast. The two accomplices, a 30-year-old Iranian and a 39-year-old Iraqi, were each sentenced to a year in prison. All three men were banned from French territory.

A boat supply store manager in December first informed the police about the three men over the suspicious sales of inflatable boats which are commonly used by people smugglers. The man also provided license plates and phone numbers that led to the suspects.

Following an investigation, police arrested two of the men on 15 January 2019. The third man was arrested after his phone was tapped and evidence was gathered. Once in custody, the three men told different stories. One of them recognised his involvement with a network of smugglers while the other two said they “only wanted to get to England.”

The investigation found that the three men were involved in organising seven migrant boat crossings from beaches near Calais, Sangatte, Wissant and Audinghen across the English Channel to the UK.

“The defendants did not smuggle only once, this is an organised gang,” said case prosecutor Camille Gourlin.

Several pictures of boat engines were found on the 30-year-old Iranian’s cell phone. The 39-year-old Iraqi’s phone was always located near the boat supply store.

The phone belonging to the 32-year-old Iraqi’s phone trace showed “a number of relays in areas where there are attempts to cross into England,” the prosecutor said. When he is not near the beach “the wiretapping showed that he was overseeing crossings,” the prosecutor said. She argued that this means that he is “the head of the organisation.”

Attempts by migrants to cross the English Channel from France have suddenly increased exponentially since late 2018. The coastal French prefecture from where smugglers launch migrants saw 78 attempts the whole of 2018, and about 50 in January and February 2019.

France and the UK have tightened their surveillance around their adjacent ports and increased border security along both coasts to control the flow of irregular migrants. The few who make it to the UK are likely to be returned to France.

TMP – 22/03/2019

Photo: Harald Schmidt / Shutterstock. UK border force patrol boat with crew member