Migrant jailed after being spotted steering two dinghies across the English Channel
A migrant fleeing persecution in Iran, who was arrested by border forces in the English Channel, has been imprisoned and faces deportation.
Ouad Kakaei was spotted at sea piloting dinghies to the UK twice in 2019.
A judge admitted on Thursday that he had a “well-founded fear of persecution” in his home country and that he was being exploited, but said he had nevertheless played an “important role” in leading the boats.
Kakaei, 30, appeared at Canterbury Crown Court via video link after pleading guilty to two counts of assisting unlawful immigration.
The first concerns a crossing in July 2019 when Kakaei and 26 others were rescued from a crowded dinghy and brought to Dover, Kent.
Prosecutor Simon Taylor told the court: ‘When searched the defendant was found to have £210 on him as well as a Samsung mobile phone.
In an interview, Kakaei said he and others took turns piloting the dinghy during the journey through the Strait of Dover.
After they arrived at the port, all but Kakaei applied for asylum and he agreed to return to Denmark where he had previously filed an unsuccessful asylum application.
In December of the same year, Kakaei was spotted in another dinghy with 10 other people heading for Britain.
All on board, including Kakaei, claimed asylum upon reaching British shores, the court heard.
The prosecutor said: ‘He admitted he piloted the boat.
“He said he did it because no one else could do it. He said the engine was a problem and he didn’t want to die at sea.
“He explained that he learned to pilot boats when he piloted a boat from Turkey to Greece in 2015 with more than 50 people on board.
Aneurin Brewer, defending, said Kakaei had no financial motive for either offense and paid for his trip along with everyone else.
He added: “Many of the other migrants on board agreed to help pilot the boat… (he) was just unlucky to be the one at the helm when the boat was banned.
“He was not responsible for setting up or arranging these crossings…and therefore he is not responsible for overloading these vessels.”
When asked why Kakaei had not sought asylum in France, Mr Brewer said his understanding of EU asylum law was limited.
Sentencing Kakaei, Judge Mark Weekes said: ‘The boats on both occasions were totally unsuitable for such crossings, they were overloaded and they were on one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
“While I have no doubt that to some degree you were exploited by others like everyone else in your situation, I do not accept that in the end you did not want to get on the boat or that some form of coercion applies to your situation,” he added.
Kakaei was imprisoned for two years and two months, most of which he has already spent in pretrial detention.
He was told that after serving his sentence he would likely face deportation from the UK.
Following the sentencing, Home Office underground channel threat commander Dan O’Mahoney said Kakaei’s actions “risked lives” and that the prosecution “put an end to this cycle of crime”.
He added: “This case is a great example of how evidence collected during our operations in the Channel has helped bring a dangerous offender to justice.”