Migrants jailed for driving canoes across the English Channel “just wanted to seek asylum”, court says

Migrants who were jailed for driving canoes across the Channel just wanted to seek asylum, a court has heard.

Four men, who are currently serving sentences of two to six years, are challenging their convictions in the Court of Appeal and its ruling will apply to at least seven others.

One of the men himself called 999 at sea, while another attempted to wave at a border forces vessel, and all said their only intention to cross the Channel was to seek asylum. .

But they were jailed for “aiding illegal immigration” after being photographed piloting small boats from France by British authorities.

The Home Office has called the men “human traffickers” and the government is supporting laws that would facilitate prosecution and increase the maximum sentence to life imprisonment.

The Court of Appeal heard that no such prosecution had taken place until the UK began filming migrant ships with drones in 2019.

It has been said that around 20 asylum seekers have now been jailed for operating boats, with two more trials set to be heard at Canterbury Crown Court in January.

Ben Douglas-Jones QC, representing the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said he did not initially perform a “nuanced analysis” of the intentions of the dinghy pilots, and has laid charges on the grounds that “moving towards the land was sufficient “for an offense. to be engaged.

The lawyer said the guidelines were changed after another asylum seeker had his conviction for assisting illegal immigration overturned in March.

The appeal judges ruled that if Fouad Kakaei intended to be intercepted by British authorities and taken to a port where he could seek asylum, it could not “constitute a facilitation offense”.

Under current law, people technically do not enter the UK if they are intercepted at sea or if they seek asylum in a port.

Mr. Kakaei’s conviction was overturned and he was acquitted in a new trial, sparking a wave of dropping charges and new appeals.

Channel tragedy: why do so many migrants cross in small boats?

A lawyer representing appellant Fariboz Rakei, who was jailed for four and a half years in March, told the appeals court that the prosecution “was not based” on the immigration laws used.

Aneurin Brewer said the offenses were designed for smugglers who exploited migrants, rather than asylum seekers offering “mutual aid”.

“These actions are motivated by desperation rather than a financial motive,” he added. “True desperation drives the people who make these crossings, whether they are lucky enough to be passengers or unlucky enough to take on the added role of piloting their boat.

Mr Brewer said the rubber dinghies are often checked by different people on a crossing, but only those photographed by UK authorities are prosecuted, meaning they are criminalized and their asylum claims will be rejected .

The lawyer questioned the government that prison sentences are a deterrent after record number of Channel crossings following prosecutions, and said migrants “have a very limited understanding of the legal situation in the UK. United”.

He told the court that some are forced to steer boats by smugglers in France, while others assume their responsibilities “out of genuine humanitarian concern for others”.

Mr Rakei told police he was threatened and assaulted by smugglers, and forced into the dinghy as he believed he was going to be carried as a stowaway on a truck or large ship .

The court heard that the Iranian asylum seeker was trying to join his family in the UK and that his relatives had paid for his passage.

Mr Rakei told police he sailed the boat because he had nautical experience and felt he was the only person who could steer it safely.

Fariboz Rakei, pictured on a dinghy crossing the English Channel, is one of the asylum seekers appealing their convictions

(Home office)

He said the intention was to be rescued at sea and that he tried to shout for help from passing ships before calling 999.

“As they approached the UK he made several calls to 999 to inform the authority of their position, so the UK would know they posed no security threat,” a summary said. interview read in court. “He didn’t try to hide anything.”

A lawyer representing appellant Samyar Bani, who was prosecuted in June 2019 and jailed for six years, said he was mistakenly told he had no defense against the charge because of a ” legal vacuum “around the Channel crossings.

Jonathan Barker said his aim had been to seek asylum after being intercepted by authorities and signaled border forces ships to their attention.

Mr Barker cited a transcript of Mr Bani’s trial, where he said: “My only goal was to seek asylum… I don’t know about immigration law, my only goal is to seek asylum , I don’t want to cause anyone trouble or obey the law of another country.

The third appellant, Kuwaiti Mohamoud al-Anzi, was jailed for three years and nine months in February and is also appealing his conviction for aiding illegal immigration on the grounds that his intention was to seek asylum.

The fourth case, Iranian Ghodratallah Zadeh, pleaded guilty to the same offense and was jailed for two years in 2020.

Lawyer Tim Owen QC said he had “not received proper advice given all the uncertainties surrounding this area of ​​the law”, and believed he had no defense.

“The question is whether the person charged with the facilitation offense has the mens rea of ​​intent or the necessary knowledge that they are helping to travel illegally,” he told the court.

“This is undoubtedly the reason why the new offense and the new legal framework are being created – to make it an offense to occur without a valid entry permit.”

The government has included a clause in the Nationality and Borders Bill that could facilitate such prosecutions, meaning people do not have to technically enter the UK to commit a facilitation offense.

The proposed law would also increase the maximum penalty for the offense of assisting illegal immigration to life, as well as increasing the penalty for the separate offense of illegal entry from six months imprisonment to four years. .

Lord Justice Edis, Mrs Justice May and Sir Nicholas Blake reserved their judgment and will deliver their decision at a later date.

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