276 people successfully reached British shores last year, according to French interior ministry figures | Photo: Federico Scoppa, AFP
276 people successfully reached British shores last year, according to French interior ministry figures | Photo: Federico Scoppa, AFP

A French court has sentenced an imam to two years in prison for helping migrants try to cross the English Channel in inflatable boats. The Iranian national had arranged several crossings from northern France to England.

A 39-year-old imam from northern France was this week sentenced to two years in prison for helping migrants try to cross the English Channel in inflatable boats. The man, who is of Iranian origin and was granted political asylum in France, was convicted of organizing several crossings  since last December.

A 29-year-old Senegalese man who attends the mosque in Rouen where the imam preaches also stood trial. He received a nine-year sentence and was banned from visiting the northern French regions of Nord and Pas-de-Calais for three years.  

The imam fainted when he heard his sentence. The men admitted to having provided six or seven dinghies after they were taken into custody in April, the French newspaper Le Figaro reported on Monday.

The investigation began in late March when French police found life jackets, wet pullovers and a rubber dinghy on a beach in northern France. Neither of the men was previously known to police, Le Figaro said.

Contradictory statements

Police found two boats, three outboard engines and life jackets in the imam's house. The two men confessed to having bought seven boats between December 2018 and April 2019. The imam told the court that he went to a shop in Deulemont, on the border with Belgium, to buy boats for a person he identified as Kamal.

Both defendants said they only found out later that the boats were being used by migrants for illegal Channel crossings.

"When I learnt that, I thought of the children on board and I told myself there could have been deaths," the Senegalese man told the court. The imam said he was "ashamed".

Prosecutors said their explanations "did not reflect reality" and that the imam was regularly in the areas where the boats were found.

Crossings on the rise

For years, thousands of migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia have attempted to reach Britain from the French port of Calais, most by trying to stow away on trucks crossing the Channel.

Recently, however, the number of migrants trying to cross in boats has risen, despite the risk of strong currents, cold waters and collisions in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

In March, a French court jailed two Iraqis and an Iranian man for organizing illegal migrant journeys across the Channel.

Britain's immigration minister, Caroline Nokes, called a spike in incidents in December "deeply concerning" after dozens of people were rescued trying to sail from France in an inflatable boat.

French interior ministry figures show that 276 people reached British shores last year.

With material from AFP

 

More articles