Four Iranian migrants who piloted boats while crossing the English Channel to seek asylum have had jail sentences quashed.
The Court of Appeal recognised “fundamental” errors in their convictions, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said.
The four men had helped to pilot inflatable boats on cross-Channel voyages, and were intercepted by Border Force officials on separate crossings in 2019 and 2020.
But the Court of Appeal ruled it had not been proved that they intended to enter the UK illegally, therefore their sentences were overturned.
Samyar Bani said he was an asylum seeker and had only been at the controls for moments.
The other men are Mohamoud Al Anzi and Fariboz Rakei, both convicted of facilitating illegal entry to the UK, and Ghodratallah Zadeh, convicted of assisting unlawful immigration.
The sole intention of all of the defendants was to claim asylum in the UK, the Court of Appeal was told.
They also wished to make themselves known to authorities so that they could claim asylum, therefore there was no attempt at clandestine entry, the immigrants group said.
“This decision to overturn these convictions represents an important victory for the individuals represented,” said Kate O’Raghallaigh, Mr Zadeh’s barrister.
“The verdict also represents a significant challenge to this government’s increasing criminalisation of people seeking asylum in the UK.
“This decision makes it clear that our government imprisoned four vulnerable people simply because they sought asylum here. Their attempt to criminalise the act of seeking safety is a travesty."
The English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world but it is also attractive to migrants trying to enter Britain from France because it is a relatively short route.
In November, 27 people died making the crossing, in the biggest single loss of life among channel migrants.
UK Home Office figures suggest a record of more than 25,000 migrants have tried the crossing this year.
Most small boats set off from the northern French coast near Calais and Dunkirk, but the stretch of coastline being used is extending.
Those recorded attempting the crossing have come from countries including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kuwait, Turkey, Palestine, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, Guinea, Mali, Chad, Somalia, Niger, Libya and Albania.
Earlier in December, another migrant was jailed after he was convicted of being a people smuggler while trying to reach Britain. He also helped to pilot a boat.
Hammad Al Shamari, from Kuwait, was jailed for two and a half years.