Group charging migrants more than £1300 to cross the Channel in their boats sentenced

Inside the lock-up in Douai, France, used as a base for a gang which smuggled migrants across the English Channel. Credit: National Crime Agency/PA

Six members of a criminal people smuggling network in France have been sentenced to 16 years in prison collectively.

The three Iraqi nationals, one Afghan national, one Sudanese man and one Frenchman set up a base in Douai, a city 25 miles south of Lille.

Prosecutors believe the group were charging migrants around 1,500 euros (more than £1300) to cross the Channel in their boats.

The investigation between the British National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Anglo-French Joint Intelligence Cell began in summer 2022, and the group’s operations were monitored by specialist immigration police until arrests were made last October.

Investigators identified members of the group and watched as they sourced boats from Turkey, engines and life jackets, hiding them in the lock-up in Douai.

The group also moved boats between the lock-up and the French Cote d’Opale when they were required for migrant crossings.

Group members included three Iraqi nationals, one of whom, Alan Mohammad Ali, is alleged to be the network’s head and chief organiser, controlling access to the lock-up.

A boat found in a lock-up used by a criminal gang to smuggle migrants across the English Channel Credit: National Crime Agency/PA

Also detained was an Afghan national, Naweed Ulla Safi, said to have acted as a recruiter for migrants, Sudanese Abdou Adame Shaikir, who prosecutors say acted as a delivery driver, and Frenchman Hafid Belghoul who also worked as a driver.

At Douai criminal court on Tuesday February 7, the men were sentenced to a combined 16 years in prison, while Ali, 35, got a five-year jail term.

NCA deputy director Oliver Higgins said: “This investigation and subsequent convictions demonstrates how the close co-operation between the NCA and our partners in France is bringing results in tackling people smuggling.

“Much of the criminality involved in these small boat crossings lies outside the UK, so we have built up our intelligence sharing effort with law enforcement partners in France, Belgium and beyond.

“These smugglers don’t care about the safety of those they transport and are quite happy to put lives at grave risk for their own profits.

“This is why tackling them is such a priority for the NCA and our partners.”

Adame Shaikir, 26, 41-year-old Belghoul, 18-year-old Iraqi Peshawa Hassan and 44-year-old Iraqi Zana Mohamad Reza each received two-year prison sentences.

Ulla Safi, 26, was sentenced to three years in prison.

The sentencing came as the total number of people crossing the Channel so far this year exceeded the combined total for January and February 2022.

There had been 1,482 crossings by the end of February last year. A total of 204 migrants arrived in the UK on five boats on Tuesday, bringing the 2023 total so far to 1,646.

There were 143 crossings in February last year due to stormy weather.