A court in Bruges has sentenced two Iranian men to eight and nine years in prison for organising the trafficking of migrants to the United Kingdom.
The two men, 39-year-old Omid K. and Reza J. (33) were arrested in May this year in the coastal town of Koksijde in West Flanders. Police were alerted when a number-plate recognition camera spotted a vehicle reported stolen in Germany.
Inside the van they found an inflatable dinghy and outboard motor, as well as 11 life-jackets, oars and canisters of petrol.
The two men were arrested on suspicion of human trafficking, and denied any involvement. But the subsequent investigation, prosecutor Manuel Manderick told the court, showed that the two men regularly bought their equipment in Germany and transported it to northern France, where migrants would meet them to take the boat and make their way across the Channel to the UK.
“The investigation showed that the men had been intensively involved for a long time in smuggling,” Manderick said.
Telephone calls intercepted by the investigators revealed that an attempt to smuggle migrants in April, before the arrest, had gone wrong because of a heavy police presence in Dunkirk, while there were four minors waiting to cross who were urgently awaited in the UK.
The detectives also found that the men had been charging migrants £3,000 (€3268) each for their passage. The judge, announcing the verdict, pointed out that this sum of money was asked for a trip in a rubber boat across one of the busiest and most dangerous shipping lanes in Europe.
In the crossing foiled by Belgian police, it is assumed that 11 migrants were involved. And the investigation discovered that the two accused had been involved in at least nine other such crossings – for a possible value of over £300,000.
“It is in fact a cynical business model,” prosecutor Manderick concluded. “A considerable investment is made in boats and engines, knowing full well that they are gone for good. But that counts for nothing compared to the profits that are made.”
Announcing the verdict, the judge addressed the plight of the migrants.
“The risks associated with crossing one of the busiest and most treacherous waterways in the world unfortunately seem at the moment inversely proportional to the probability of being caught, which is something to think about.”
No trace of any of the victims of the traffickers has been found.