Dunkirk (France) (AFP) – A court in northern France sentenced on Friday five people smugglers to prison terms of up to six years for helping migrants reach Britain from northern France.
The ring, which included three Kurds and two Frenchmen, charged £8,000 ($10,100; 11,500 euros) for “guaranteed” passage across the Channel.
Thousands of migrants desperate to reach Britain, where many have family or community ties and see better hopes for work, have massed along the northern French coast in makeshift camps.
All of the defendants were charged with belonging to an organised gang that helped with the illegal entry of migrants between August 2015 and this February.
The ring’s leader, an Iranian Kurd known as “Kapa” who is still on the run, got the heaviest sentence at six years and a 50,000-euro fine in the Dunkirk court. Authorities have issued an international warrant for his arrest.
Two other Kurds — an Iranian and an Iraqi — were jailed for two years each. They were responsible for finding migrants and bringing them to an assigned highway rest area in Dunkirk for transport.
Two Frenchmen who ran a cafe in Dunkirk and provided logistic support to the ring were also sentenced. One given a year behind bars and the other two years, while a cab driver accused of transporting migrants was acquitted.
The ring, which operated around the Grande-Synthe camp near Dunkirk – which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visited in January to demand looser border controls – was broken up in mid-February by border police. At the start of March the squalid camp was home to close to 1,500 people, many of whom were Kurds.
Last month authorities reported a sharp increase in migrant attempts to stow away in the back of lorries which then board ferries or shuttle trains to England.
French police unions said they feared the rise heralds a difficult summer as the flow of migrants into Europe begins to pick up again.