French court jails members of Channel migrant-smuggling gang

Men sentenced to a combined 16 years in prison, while one Iraqi national received a five-year term

The lock-up in Douai, France, used by the people-trafficking gang. PA
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A French court has sentenced six members of a criminal people-smuggling network to a total of 16 years in prison.

The gang, comprising three Iraqi nationals, one Afghan, a Sudanese man and a Frenchman set up a base in Douai, a city 40km south of Lille.

The group were charging migrants about €1,500 ($1,610) to cross the Channel in their boats, prosecutors believe.

The investigation between the British National Crime Agency and the Anglo-French Joint Intelligence Cell began in summer 2022.

The group’s operations were monitored by immigration police until arrests were made in October.

Investigators identified members of the group and watched as they obtained boats from Turkey, engines and life jackets, hiding them in the lock-up in Douai.

The group also moved boats between the lock-up and the French Cote d’Opale when they were required for migrant crossings.

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One of the Iraqi nationals, Alan Ali, was the network’s leader and chief organiser, controlling access to the lock-up.

Also detained was Afghan national, Naweed Ulla Safi, a recruiter of migrants, Sudanese Abdou Adame Shaikir, as a delivery driver, and Frenchman Hafid Belghoul, who was also a driver.

At Douai Criminal Court on February 7, the men were sentenced to a combined 16 years in prison, while Ali, 35, received a five-year term.

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“This investigation and subsequent convictions demonstrates how the close co-operation between the NCA and our partners in France is bringing results in tackling people smuggling," said NCA deputy director Oliver Higgins.

“Much of the criminality involved in these small boat crossings lies outside the UK, so we have built up our intelligence-sharing effort with law-enforcement partners in France, Belgium and beyond.

“These smugglers don’t care about the safety of those they transport and are quite happy to put lives at grave risk for their own profits.

“This is why tackling them is such a priority for the NCA and our partners.”

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Adame Shaikir, 26, Belghoul, 41, Iraqi Peshawa Hassan, 18, and Iraqi Zana Mohamad Reza, 44, each received two-year prison sentences.

Ulla Safi, 26, was sentenced to three years in prison.

The sentencing came as the number of people crossing the Channel so far this year exceeded the combined total for January and February 2022.

There had been 1,482 crossings by the end of February last year. A total of 204 migrants arrived in the UK on five boats on Tuesday, bringing the 2023 total so far to 1,646.

There were only 143 crossings in February last year because of stormy weather.

Updated: February 08, 2023, 7:37 PM