A French court has jailed four Afghans and handed lesser sentences to five others for illegally smuggling migrants across the Channel to Britain on dinghies in 2021.
London and Paris are clamping down on illicit boat crossings into the United Kingdom on the perilous route, which has been used by growing numbers of people since 2018.
The court tried nine Afghans aged 21 to 39 for taking part in four operations to smuggle 53 mainly Vietnamese and Afghan migrants across the Channel between January and March 2021.
All passengers were picked up in either British or French waters.
The Paris court on Wednesday jailed a 30-year-old for six years and fined him 30,000 euros ($32,000) for orchestrating the crossings, charges he denied throughout the trial.
It ordered that he should be expelled from France once he has served his time.
It sentenced three other defendants to five years in jail and a 25,000-euro fine each, also ordering their deportation afterwards. One of them had six months of his jail term suspended.
Five other Afghans were handed lesser sentences and will not go to prison.
The prosecutor had requested slightly harsher sentences, alleging the defendants had “knowingly endangered the lives of others”.
The defence stressed that the defendants had themselves been forced to flee a war-torn country ruled by the extremist Taliban and were living in poverty.
Their lawyer, Alexia Gavini, alleged that Britain had “considerably hardened its immigration policy, leading to an exponential rise in crossings”.
According to a statement read out during the trial, one of the defendants told investigators that, at one dinghy launch, a passenger designated as the boat’s captain was allowed to travel for free, while a second tasked with navigation paid half price.
All the rest handed over between 1,500 and 4,000 euros each, the charge sheet showed.
According to the British government, more than 45,000 migrants arrived on the shores of southeast England on small boats in 2022.
The previous year, more than 28,000 people were detected arriving.
In November 2021, at least 27 people, including a seven-year-old, drowned when their dinghy deflated during the journey.
In December 2019, a French court jailed two smugglers – an Afghan and a Dutchman of Guinean origin – for six and three years respectively after a 31-year-old Iranian woman drowned during a crossing.