British woman jailed for trying to sneak refugee boy in to UK

A French court on Wednesday sent a 41-year-old British woman to jail for attempting to sneak a young Syrian migrant into Britain.

British woman jailed for trying to sneak refugee boy in to UK
Children at a refugee camp near Calais. Photo: AFP

The woman was handed a one-year sentence, with nine months of the term suspended, for hiding the 15-year-old boy in the boot of her car in an attempt to get him onto a cross-Channel ferry.

She was apprehended by French authorities at the northwestern port of Dieppe before they could board the vessel to Newhaven on Britain's south coast.

The mother-of-one, who works in a London suburb as a waitress and occasional escort girl, had arrived in northern France to visit “The Jungle” migrants' camp in Calais, which she knew well from earlier trips as a volunteer.

According to the French authorities she accepted £500 (€650) from an Iraqi migrant at the Calais camp, who managed to get over to England and asked her to smuggle the 15-year-old across, a task she accepted for “humanitarian reasons”.

An initial court decision in November deemed her crime worthy of a year in jail.

On appeal at a court in the northeast town of Rouen that sentence was eased to three months in jail.

Including time already served in custody she should be freed on February 12th.

The appeal court also banned her from entering France for five years.

Last week French justice showed more clemency to another British voluntary worker, former soldier Robert Lawrie, who was only fined €1,000 for attempting to take a four-year-old Afghan girl out of the Calais camp in order to drive her to Britain.

Unlike his compatriot he received no money and his act wasn't deemed to be premeditated.

On a visit to Paris on Monday Lawrie urged people to understand the desperation of the migrants fleeing war and misery as they languish in a camp with some 4,000 inhabitants, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq but also Sudan and Eritrea.

“You can't help everyone. But everyone can help someone”, said Lawrie, a father-of-four from northern England who has visited The Jungle several times to build shelters for the migrants.

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.