The UK Home Office charged 69 Albanian migrants in November this year with "illegally entering the country" on a boat. Now it has transpired that the boat was intercepted before they reached the UK and so the charges have been dropped.
UK prosecutors have dropped charges against 69 Albanian migrants who were charged with "entering the UK illegally" in November this year.
The fishing boat they were on, a 101-foot trawler, set sail from Belgium and was intercepted by border forces off the coast of the town of Great Yarmouth in the east of England on November 17. 72 people were on board the vessel and all of them were arrested in a joint operation between the Home Office’s Immigration Enforcement unit, Border Force and the National Crime Agency.
Home Office (interior ministry) prosecutors decided to prosecute the migrants under the Immigration Act, charging them with entering the country illegally. But because they were intercepted at sea and then immediately detained, it was argued that they had not actually entered the UK or committed a crime under the Immigration Act.
Five of the men charged pleaded guilty to entering the UK illegally and were jailed as a result for two weeks. The Independent newspaper reports that their convictions will now be returned to court where they will be quashed.
The three crew members on the fishing boat, a Latvian and two Ukrainians were charged with facilitating illegal immigration according to the Independent. A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokesperson told the Independent; "After careful consideration, we have decided our legal tests for prosecution were not met in relation to the 69 passengers."
The right-leaning Daily Mail newspaper commented that the migrants prosecution had been halted by a "legal bungle."
One of the solicitors for the defence, David Allan, told the local Eastern Daily Press that the migrants had headed for the UK because of "economic and financial circumstances resulting in fairly extreme hardship."
Two of the migrants "may be passed to the national referral mechanism for identifying victims of modern slavery," reported the Independent.
Eight other court cases brought by the British government have led to jail sentences this year, against those identified as having piloted migrant boats across the Channel. They were identified as having done so through the use of drone surveillance. Those migrants were charged with "assisting unlawful immigration," a sentence which carries a maximum of 14 years in jail.
'Human right to come with our families'
The wife of one of the men on the ship told the Daily Mail that her husband had been detained at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Center for nearly a month since his arrival. She said he hoped that he would be released soon. Her husband, Taulant Ajazi, reportedly told the Daily Mail that he felt it was his "human right to come [to the UK] with our families."
Ajazi claimed his life was "at risk in our country because of our debts." He said he had spoken to his lawyers and wanted to be able to live his life "in freedom."
A spokesperson at the Home Office told the Independent that they were "disappointed that the proceedings against the 69 people charged with illegal entry will be discontinued and we are working with the CPS urgently to resolve the issues raised by this case."
They went on to say that immigration cases like these would be "dealt with as quickly as possible and removal action will be pursued against anyone found to have no right to remain in the UK." The Home Office reiterated that "knowingly entering the UK without leave is a criminal offense and anyone who has committed such an offense should be prepared to face prosecution."