Former asylum seeker jailed after more than 260 attempts to smuggle people into the UK

Report from ITV Granada Journalist Amy Welch.

A man who is thought to have been involved in more than 260 attempts to smuggle people into the UK has been jailed.

Benham Farzaneh-Baghbanan, along with his gang, exploited hundreds of Iranians with promises of safe passage to the UK.

It comes at the same time the government used the Queen’s speech on the 11 May to outline new plans to deter criminals involved in people smuggling.

Her Majesty said the changes would mean a fairer immigration system that strengthens the UK’s borders and puts off those making money from exploiting vulnerable people. 

ITV cameras joined immigration officers in 2016 when Farzaneh-Baghbanan’s Salford house was first raided.

Inside they found mobile phones, passports and bank cards all of which were used to book flights for undocumented asylum seekers.

Benham Farzaneh-Baghbanan's house in Salford was raided during operation cosy back in 2016. Credit: ITV Granada.

The people trafficker was arrested, but fled the country just days later. It was not until March 2019 that he was extradited back to the UK to face charges. 

From January 2015 through to 2016, Farzaneh-Baghbanan and his gang are thought to have been involved in more than 260 attempts to reach the UK.

Iranian nationals paid thousands of pounds for false documents which allow them to board a flight, but while in the air those documents would be destroyed when they landed at airports like Manchester.

They would then try to claim asylum but around half never made it through. 

David Magrath, Immigration Enforcement said: "They were paying for a premium service, they were paying about £12,000 and the crime group would go to great lengths to try and match fake documents to their appearance and give them hints and tips around how to act more western.

"In some cases, they offered a no arrival guarantee so if they were stopped by foreign law enforcement from boarding the plane they were then given a second and third attempt to enter the UK."

Farzaneh-Baghbanan and gang would send pictures to the nationals indicating what clothes would give them the best chance of getting through airport security. 

Regardless of whether they made it or not, the gang pocketed at least £170,000. 

When he was caught, he confessed to the criminal business described by the judge as a ‘travel agency for the desperate’ which profited shamefully from the desperation of his fellow countrymen. 

His associates Kaveh Sharifat, Mojtaba Salehi and Mohammad Naderi were given suspended sentences for money laundering after admitting their part in the plot.

However, Farzaneh-Baghbanan will spend the next eight and a half years in prison. 

Senior Policy Officer at Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit Amanda Shah spoke to our presenter Gamal Fanbulleh.

She said: "People are coming to the UK and other countries around the world because they're fleeing conflict, war and persecution.

"My concern is that the reason why people are willing to put themselves into the hands of traffickers is only going to be enhanced because of the proposals in Priti Patel's bill in the Queen's Speech."

"They will leave communities like ours in the North West at risk of more injustices as we saw with the Windrush generation for example because of a scaling up of hostile environment policies."