Iranian Migrant Charged with Manslaughter over English Channel Drownings

DUNKIRK, FRANCE - JANUARY 06: A police officers stands at the entrance to a new migrant camp on January 6, 2016 in Dunkirk, France. Thousands of migrants continue to live in makeshift camps in the port towns of Calais and Dunkirk in northern France, where they try and board vehicles …
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A 37-year-old Iranian man has been arrested and charged with manslaughter after a family of five drowned while trying to cross the English Channel from France.

The alleged trafficker, who himself is a migrant, was arrested on Friday by authorities in Dunkirk, marking the first time an accused Channel people-smuggler has been charged with manslaughter.

Dunkirk’s prosecutor, Sébastien Pièvre, said: “The [suspect] told us he was just a migrant trying to get to England, but our investigations suggest that his involvement in this senseless journey was greater than that. He is accused by the survivors who described him as being close to the people-smugglers.”

On Tuesday, Rasoul Iran-Nejad, his wife Shiva Mohammad Panahi, and their two children aged nine and six drowned after being stuck in the cabin of the boat as it capsized. Their other son, who was 15-months-old, has not been recovered, and along with two other migrants is presumed to be dead.

One of the survivors of the boat wreck, Farhad Shekari, 28, told The Telegraph: “The middle man was forcing people to get on the boat. He was saying: ‘Go, go, go.'”

It is believed by officials that none of the migrants on the ill-fated boat were wearing life jackets and that they were warned by other migrants not to set sail from Grand Synthe as the boat was not strong enough to withstand the six-foot waves and strong gusts of wind.

The Dunkirk prosecutor said that by skippering the boat, the unnamed Iranian people-smuggler will face “aggravated manslaughter”, meaning he faces a prison sentence of up to ten years and a €150,000 (£135,000/$175,000) fine.

He has also been charged with “criminal association” for his role in assisting illegal immigration and endangering lives, which also carries a ten-year maximum prison sentence.

“Investigations are actively continuing to identify and arrest other members of the people-smuggling ring who may be higher in the hierarchy,” said Mr Pièvre, who noted that the man is not believed to be the leader of the trafficking operation.

Elsewhere, a worker in a Kurdish restaurant that is believed to be connected to the people-smuggling operation that led to the death of migrants was also detained by armed police.

In England, two Iranian men were jailed for two years after Canterbury Crown Court found them guilty on Friday of smuggling 29 migrants, including themselves, across the English Channel in rubber dinghies.

The two men, Ghodratallah Donyamali Zadeh, 26, and Ahmed Nayat Quadir, 20, were caught with the assistance of camera footage from a Tekever AR5 drone that has been deployed in the Channel to bust the perilous migrant route.

So far this year, over 7,500 illegal boat migrants have reached British shores, with nearly 2,000 coming in September alone.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here: @KurtZindulka

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