A young asylum seeker who claimed he was forced to pilot a boat carrying 45 people across the Channel was jailed just two days after arriving in the U
A young asylum seeker who claimed he was forced to pilot a boat carrying 45 people across the Channel was jailed just two days after arriving in the UK.
Ibrahim Al Amin, 20, said he was fleeing persecution from a tribe in Sudan to find refuge in Britain, but was instead arrested for assisting unlawful entry into the country under new powers designed to target smugglers.
Last June saw anyone caught piloting a boat carrying migrants across the Channel facing life behind bars as part of a move to increase sentences and deter refugees from trying to cross the dangerous shipping lanes.
Then-Home Secretary Priti Patel claimed at the time that the Nationality and Borders Act would give the government ‘new powers to tackle criminality’.
But people smuggling gangs usually make refugees to steer the dinghies themselves when they leave the French coast, meaning the laws punish asylum seekers rather than the traffickers.
Ibrahim Al Amin, 20, said he was fleeing persecution from a tribe in Sudan to find refuge in Britain, but was instead arrested for assisting unlawful entry into the country under new powers designed to target smugglers (file photograph)
Folkestone Magistrates’ Court heard Al Amin was the only person on the boat to be arrested when they landed on the Kent coast and that he was threatened by a rival tribe before leaving France (file phoograph)
Folkestone Magistrates’ Court heard Al Amin was the only person on the boat to be arrested when they landed on the Kent coast and that he was threatened by a rival tribe before leaving France.
But magistrates decided to jail him for eight months at a hearing on February 9.
Julie Farbrace, prosecuting, told the court: ‘That boat had left the French coast and was making its way across the Channel when it was intercepted by UK assets and he was brought to shore.
‘Records show he has never applied for a visa to enter the UK. Images of the boat were looked into and showed him piloting the boat.’
Paul Shingleton, defending, argued Al Amin was seeking asylum in the UK and was forced into steering the boat when it launched on February 7.
He said: ‘He has explained at length to police that he has sought refuge from being persecuted by a tribe which has a large presence in France which is why he felt he had to come to the UK.
‘He was subject to threats to pilot that boat and he pointed out the man who was directing the travel of that boat was also in contact with the smuggler who made those threats.
‘He was piloting the boat, which is usually seen as an aggravating factor, but my view is that that should be negated by the clear threats that were made to pilot the boat.
‘Of the 45 other people in that boat, no other people were taken into police custody.’
The court heard Al Amin has no family, job or money and Ms Farbrace asked the court not to impose a financial penalty.
She said: ‘He is a man of good character and due to his situation I will not be asking you to consider a cost.
‘There are no sentencing guidelines for this offence, the sentences range from 12-month custody to lower quantities of custody, and in some instances to suspended sentences.’
But magistrates said Al Amin should be made an example of to others considering crossing the Channel without the proper documents and imposed a victim surcharge of £187.
Chairman of the bench Mrs Dhadwal told the defendant: ‘We deliberated long and hard, because it needs to be a punishment for you and also to send a message to others.
‘We considered the fact that you were piloting the boat and your evidence that this was possibly under duress.
‘We are of the view that you must be sentenced to custody, we have reduced the period to eight months from 12 months.’
Speaking after the case, Mr Shingleton regretted the frequency with which such cases are being heard at court and that the changes to the law were not deterring people smuggling.
He said: ‘The changes in law to extend powers of sentence in an attempt to discourage travel by boat.
‘I’ll leave you to decide if this change has made a difference in the numbers attempting the journey.’