Asylum seekers jailed for driving rubber dinghies across the Channel when they “were not part of criminal gangs”

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Migrants are jailed for driving canoes across the Channel despite an official report concluding that there are “no members of an organized criminal group” on board.

The Interior Ministry lobbied to criminalize level crossings after Priti Patel’s vow to make the route “unsustainable” was followed by record numbers over the summer.

Its immigration law enforcement unit analyzes drone footage of small boats to identify migrants to prosecute for directing them.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) issued new guidance for lawyers last month after an internal debate over whether the charges were in the public interest, The independent can reveal.

A document says the offense of assisting illegal immigration could be applied to asylum seekers who run boats because they “facilitated” travel.

The offense was previously used to prosecute smugglers who bring migrants to the UK for profit, such as truck drivers and members of organized criminal networks.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labor’s shadow Home Secretary, called on the PSC to release the internal guidelines to allow for proper scrutiny.

“The government’s comprehensive approach to the Channel crossings has lacked compassion and competence,” he said. The independent.

“The Interior Minister should work with her French and international counterparts and find safe routes, including the reopening of the Dubs program and the Interior Ministry’s refugee resettlement program.”

Eight migrants who admitted to leading boats have been jailed since August, with sentences ranging from 16 months to more than two and a half years. After serving their prison sentence, they may be deported.

A lawyer who has worked on immigration cases in Kent for more than a decade said there had been a change in policy to charge “asylum seekers who get their hands on the bar”.

Minister “does not accept” that government failures are at the root of migrant deaths

The lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, said The independent: “They’ve just never prosecuted people under these circumstances before, in my opinion there are Priti Patel’s fingerprints all over the place. Many prosecutors are very uncomfortable.

Steve Dann, the Home Office’s deputy clandestine canals threat commander, told a press conference in September that dinghy pilots made up the bulk of more than 100 Channel crossings-related arrests .

“There are a lot more of these cases going to court,” he added.

“It’s not just a matter of waiting for them to get here and launching an investigation, we are using air assets to identify the pilots of these ships.”

Activists said the policy meant authorities criminalized asylum seekers for “trying to save lives” by safely operating boats on dangerous journeys.

A Kurdish-Iranian family of two children and a baby drowned last month after their boat sank in the worst disaster of its kind in the English Channel.

Charities called on the government to increase safe routes to seek asylum in the UK after the tragedy, but the Home Secretary reiterated his vows to “use the full force of the law to bring criminals down organized behind bars “.

Members of a Kurdish-Iranian family who drowned last month

(Hengaw Human Rights Organization)

In a report on small boat crossings released last week, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) said organized criminal activity was mainly taking place in France.

The document, which was completed in March, said the immigration criminal and financial investigation team found the small boat investigations “difficult because there was no member of an organized criminal group. aboard the boats, although one of the migrants may have agreed with the facilitators to act as a “chaperone” for a reduced rate “.

Some of the men jailed for running boats paid a heavy price for their trip and a Yemeni asylum seeker once said The independent smugglers oblige him to facilitate movement before he is authorized to cross the Channel himself.

The man said he had been threatened with violence and criminal prosecution, after smugglers filmed him preparing boats and claimed they would send the footage to police.

In press releases announcing the imprisonment of migrants for driving dinghies, the Interior Ministry called them “human smugglers”.

But the label does not meet the United Nations Refugee Agency’s definition of smugglers as facilitating travel for “financial or other material benefit.”

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said the Home Office “confused what everyone understands as a human smuggler” with asylum seekers risking their own lives to reach the UK.

“There is no way that it is in the public interest to prosecute people who come to the UK seeking safety for simply trying to get here alive and to protect the lives of the people they are with. are traveling, ”she added.

“The people who come to seek asylum themselves and risk their lives are clearly in a completely different category from organized crime bosses who have no respect or care about people’s lives.

Ms Sankey said asylum seekers who run boats should be exempted from prosecution for facilitating illegal immigration, and the offense should be reserved for people “using it as a business.”

She also rejected the government’s argument that prison terms will deter crossings, saying migrants from northern France are unlikely to hear news of court cases.

“Often they won’t know the consequences or they will think the risk is worth it,” Ms. Sankey said.

The CPS said people who pilot boats have always been liable to prosecution, but the position was “clarified” in a memo to prosecutors in October, due to the growing number of such referred cases.

Frank Ferguson, Head of Immigration Crime at CPS, said: “Each case that comes before us is independently reviewed on its own merits and with reference to our legal tests, including whether a prosecution is in the process. public interest.

“The standard approach to immigration cases is to consider prosecution for those who have played a significant role in facilitating illegal entry into the UK, which includes those who pilot small vessels. “

A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry said: “Any suggestion that the Interior Ministry pressured the PSC is completely false.

“Our criminal investigation teams bring cases to the CPS, which then independently decides whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute.

“Our approach to this issue has been upheld by the courts, which have handed down convictions and handed down significant sentences against people piloting ships, aiding illegal entry and putting lives at risk.”


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