Lawyers challenge UK jailing asylum seekers crossing English Channel


The UK government’s policy of prosecuting asylum seekers who steer boats across the English Channel under smuggling laws, will be challenged in court by lawyers of individuals who are jailed under the rule.

The lawyers will argue that the individuals were attempting to be rescued at sea so they could claim asylum and should not be prosecuted as criminals.

British Immigration Enforcement has brought 67 successful prosecutions related to piloting small boats since the beginning of 2020.

However, after court challenges earlier this year, the Crown Prosecution Service issued new guidance saying that passengers – including those who steered boats– were potentially vulnerable asylum seekers who should not be prosecuted.

Prosecutions have continued despite this guidance, and lawyers for several individuals jailed on smuggling charges will put their cases forward at the Court of Appeal on Tuesday, The Guardian reported.

Clare Moseley, the director of refugee charity Care for Calais, who has given evidence for recent hearings, told The Guardian’s sister newspaper The Observer that the people steering boats were not criminals making money out of the crossings.

“Some migrants drive the boat in order to get a place on it because they can’t afford to pay a smuggler. These people are victims of conflicts, torture and persecution, they are not criminals,” Moseley said. “In Calais people tell us that they have to take their phone so they can call the coastguard or Border Force from the boat; these people are happy to meet the authorities – their full intention is to claim asylum.”

The appeals were triggered by a case in May 2021, when Iranian Fouad Kakaei had his smuggling conviction overturned at a retrial after spending 17 months in jail. He told UK authorities he had steered the boat to prevent it from sinking.

The Crown Prosecution Service issued new guidance on English Channel crossing prosecutions after Kakaei’s verdict was overturned.

“Recognising migrants and asylum seekers often have no choice in how they travel and face exploitation by organised crime groups, prosecutors are… asked to consider the… public interest factors in charging those merely entering illegally… Passengers of boats and other vehicles should not be prosecuted unless they are repeat offenders or have previously been deported,” the guidance advised.

Prosecutions are still going ahead despite the new guidance, and last week a 36-year-old man was jailed for two-and-a-half years for steering a boat with 25 people across the English Channel.

Earlier this year, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government would “ruthlessly stiffen the sentences for anybody who is involved in this kind of people smuggling and trafficking human beings across the channel.”

The UK’s Minister for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration Tom Pursglove said that small boat pilots put the lives of all in the boat “in mortal danger and it is right that we deter further attempts by bringing them to justice.”

“Our new plan for immigration will help prevent these dangerous crossings by introducing tougher penalties for those who risk people’s lives by facilitating illegal immigration,” he added.

The Nationality and Borders Bill, described as the cornerstone of the government’s new plan for immigration, was scrutinized in Parliament last week.

The bill could make it easier to prosecute people who cross the channel, as well as increase the sentence to life for the offense of assisting unlawful immigration. (Source: Arab News)