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Jailed asylum-seekers overturn convictions for helping to steer small boats across the channel

FOUR asylum-seekers who were jailed for helping to steer small boats across the channel won their appeal against their convictions today.  

The Court of Appeal has recognised that the Crown Court in Kent, where the men were convicted and sentenced, had made fundamental errors and quashed their convictions.

The court heard submissions that the defendants’ sole intention was to claim asylum in the UK, that they wished to make themselves known to authorities to do so, and that there was therefore no attempt at clandestine entry.

The decision to overturn these convictions represents an important victory for the individuals, Samyar Ahmadii Bani, Al Anzi Mohamoud, Fariboz Taher Rakei and Ghodrattallah Donyamali Zadeh. 

The verdict also represents a significant challenge to this government’s increasing criminalisation of people seeking asylum in Britain, and follows another overturned conviction of a man jailed for boat-steering earlier this year. 

Campaigners say this latest overturned case should set an important precedent. 

Zoe Gardner, policy and advocacy manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “This decision makes it clear that our government imprisoned four vulnerable people, simply because they sought asylum here. Their attempt to criminalise the act of seeking safety is a travesty. 

“These men were victims of a system that leaves people with no other option than dangerous journeys here. Our government could prevent people risking their lives like this by providing safe passage — instead they have tried to turn us against people seeking protection.”

In the case of Mr Zadeh, he was wrongly advised that he had no legal defence on this basis and so was advised to plead guilty.

The court found this plea was entered because hearsay about the law had been adopted by those investigating these cases and had affected the way judges at the Crown Court approached these prosecutions.

Kate O’Raghallaigh, a barrister representing Mr Zadeh, said he had been deprived of a fair opportunity to decide whether to plead guilty.

A Home Office spokesman said more must be done to dismantle the ruthless criminal gangs behind Channel crossings. 

He said the government’s new plan for immigration will strengthen their powers, with the Nationality and Borders Bill making it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in Britain “without permission” and introduce life sentences for facilitating “illegal entry.”

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