LONDON: Four Iranian men who crossed the English Channel in small boats have had their convictions for immigration offenses overturned in an appeal court hearing.
The court ruled on Tuesday that it had not been proven that the men intended to enter the UK illegally.
The four individuals, who fled Iran for Britain, were intercepted by border officials on separate occasions in 2019 and 2020 and were all convicted of crimes separately.
They had all at times piloted inflatable boats in crossings organized by people smugglers. One of them, Samyar Bani, claimed he had control of the boat’s steering for a matter of seconds. He was released having served part of his sentence.
He told the BBC: “I lost everything because I came to the UK for an asylum claim. I’m not a criminal, not a smuggler. I just sat in a boat and came here for asylum claim.”
Bani traveled from Iran through Turkey, Greece, Germany, and France before making the treacherous crossing across the English Channel into the UK.
He was convicted in 2019 after British Border Force officials saw him piloting an inflatable boat across the Channel on the final leg of his journey.
The Court of Appeal said the jury in his case had been wrongly told he broke the law as soon as he entered UK waters, as it actually distinguishes between legal and illegal actions on the basis of more complicated factors.
The appeal judges said: “If landing on a beach … then it would be open to the jury to conclude the helmsman assisted an unlawful entry even if the boat was ultimately intercepted.
“If, on the other hand, the facilitator knows the only way in which the migrant intends to enter the United Kingdom is being brought ashore by UK Border Force, then he will not be committing an offense.”
Two other men, Mohamoud Al-Anzi and Fariboz Rakei, were convicted of facilitating illegal entry to the UK. A fourth, Ghodratallah Zadeh, was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to assisting unlawful immigration.
Zadeh’s conviction was quashed on the grounds he was wrongly advised he had no defense.
Speaking to the BBC, Bani said that he was now waiting for the Home Office to decide on his asylum claim, adding that he had converted to Christianity and was no longer safe in Iran.
This year, Britain has been grappling with a surge in arrivals of asylum seekers and immigrants to the country via the Channel. It is thought that more than triple the number that arrived in the whole of 2020 have arrived via that same route during 2021.
Many of the arrivals have been Iranian Kurds fleeing persecution and economic collapse at home in Iran.