Pair jailed in France over Channel people smuggling operation
Two people traffickers who preyed on desperate migrants trying to sneak to Britain across the English Channel have been arrested and convicted in France, authorities say.
The arrests cracked the centrepiece of a lucrative people smuggling network run out of Britain, where the investigation continues, according to Dunkirk deputy prosecutor Amelie Le Sant.
A Dunkirk court convicted Twana Jamal, a 36-year-old Iraqi Kurd earlier this month, along with Kadir Pirout, 33.
In a single month, the two arranged passage for more than 80 migrants. The monthly take was estimated at £300,000, Ms Le Sant said.
Jamal received a five-year sentence while Pirout got four years, plus fines and lifelong bans from France once their terms are served.
Across northern France, police are cracking down on migrant smugglers.
The people smuggling operation was out of the Grande Synthe camp outside Dunkirk, 27 miles east of Calais - site of a massive makeshift migrant camp that French authorities plan to dismantle before year's end.
"The arrest was a bit messy. Police officers were set upon by migrants trying to prevent the operation," Herve Derache of the regional border police told reporters.
"The networks are indeed very well organised," he said.
He added that the smugglers are increasingly moving away from Calais and its increased security presence, to attract less attention as they try to sneak onto trucks crossing the English Channel on ferries or trains.
Authorities in the area have arrested 619 suspected smugglers so far this year, up from 586 over all of 2015, Mr Derache said, primarily Afghans, Kurds and Albanians.
He said 49,000 migrants have been caught hiding in trucks this year, up sharply from 38,000 over all of 2015.
Jamal ran his business out of the Grande Synthe camp, receiving clients and negotiating prices -- usually about £5,000 for the ride in a freight truck with no guarantee of safe passage, Ms Le Sant said.
Phone taps showed he brought some potential clients into the camp, providing directions.
"Pasha was a big fish ... the nickname Pasha shows the place he had in the camp," Ms Le Sant said.
"He has lots of charisma. He had a reputation."
His accomplice, Pirout, played a crucial role as the drop-off man. He would sometimes drive migrants as far away as the Rouen area in Normandy or the Somme region south of Dunkirk "where truckers are less vigilant," the deputy prosecutor said.
Pirout would try to find the most desirable trucks - those carrying onions - or pack onions in with the migrants, to sneak the human cargo past carbon dioxide scans at the port.
Onions, she said, purportedly mask the CO2 from the migrants' breath.
Ms Le Sant, who has handled numerous migrant smuggling cases, described another network run by Vietnamese who guaranteed passage to Britain for migrants using paid drivers.
Seven were convicted in the scheme earlier this year. Those trips, in which migrants hidden in Paris were first taken to Dunkirk or nearby Belgium, cost £10,000 each.