Jailed asylum seekers ‘part of sophisticated people trafficking network’

The two asylum seekers were arrested trying to leave Belfast Port for Scotland last week
The two asylum seekers were arrested trying to leave Belfast Port for Scotland last week

Two asylum seekers arrested in Belfast as part of a suspected European-wide people trafficking racket have each been sentenced to six months in jail.

Shahid Khan, a 28-year-old Pakistani, and a 17-year-old from Afghanistan who cannot be named, paid thousands of euros to a Paris-based criminal agent for flight tickets and other people’s driving licences, a judge was told.

The pair were detained last week on an alternative route into the United Kingdom via Dublin following previous failed attempts to get past immigration checkpoints at Calais.

Khan, of no fixed address, and the youth each pleaded guilty to illegal entry to the UK and possessing identity documents relating to someone else with improper intention.

Jailing them at Belfast Magistrates’ Court, Deputy District Judge Joe Rice said: “They were both part of a very sophisticated, criminal, European operation, the totality of which is still to be unmasked.”

The two defendants face deportation on completion of their prison terms.

They were passengers in a Mercedes car stopped at Belfast Port on July 29 as it was about to board a ferry to Scotland.

Border officials took them to an immigration centre on suspicion of using drivers’ licences belonging to other people.

Khan was described as a political worker who left Pakistan in May 2015 because he was in danger.

He headed for Europe, travelling through Italy, the Czech Republic, Germany and Belgium before arriving in France, the court heard.

A Home Office immigration officer said Khan was stopped twice before at Calais.

The teenage co-accused was said to have fled Afghanistan due to a risk to his life from the Taliban.

He also made numerous attempts to get to Dover from Calais, being detected and taken off lorries making the crossing.

The two defendants met up in Paris through the same criminal agent, according to the immigration officer.

They were supplied with tickets to Dublin and the drivers licences in return for total payments of nearly €5,000.

Khan and the youth said they destroyed their own passports during the flight on the advice of the agent.

Once they arrived in the Republic of Ireland the pair claimed asylum and then used the bogus licences.

Investigations are continuing in an attempt to discover who else was involved in the operation, the officer confirmed.

Barrister Chris Hogg, representing both defendants, argued that had acted in desperation.

But pointing to the amount of money involved, Judge Rice said: “There’s a high degree of organisation at the end of this, it’s clearly people trafficking.”

Imposing prison sentences on the pair, he added: “They both represent a determined, criminal attempt to circumvent the provisions of the Immigration Act.”