Briton avoids prison for trying to smuggle Afghan girl into UK
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Former British soldier Rob Lawrie avoided prison time on Thursday after a French court cleared him on charges of aiding illegal immigration after he tried to smuggle a 4-year-old Afghan girl from Calais to the UK.
The court instead handed Lawrie a suspended fine of €1,000 for putting the girl’s life in danger, since he hid her in a van without a child seat or seatbelt.
He will not be required to pay the fine, however, unless he commits another infraction on French soil.
The 49-year-old father of four faced up to five years in prison and a €30,000-euro ($32,500, or 22,500 pounds) fine for aiding illegal immigration, in a case that went to the heart of Europe’s dilemma over how to deal with its worst refugee crisis since World War Two.
Lawrie went to help migrants in the squalid “jungle” camp in Calais this past autumn, where he met Bahar Ahmadi, known as Bru, and her father, who asked Lawrie to take the girl to Britain.
He refused several times but relented on October 24, 2015 as nights grew colder in the camp. He set off in his van with Bru but French police caught him, also finding two Eritrean men in the back of the vehicle, and returned the young girl to her father in the camp.
The ruling comes as a victory for Lawrie, who has apologised for his “irrational” actions.
“Selfishly for me, my thought is one of fear. I don’t want to go to jail,” Lawrie told reporters ahead of the trial.
“I also like to think we’ve changed the public image of young men trying to get on trains and trucks,” he said after arriving at the news conference carrying the little Afghan girl, who was smiling and eating candies. “We’ve put a compassionate image on the refugee crisis in northern France.”
He said he regretted his decision and wouldn’t recommend that anyone else try to do the same, but also added: “I don’t understand why other people around the world are not getting as emotional as me.”
An estimated 4,000 people live in the Calais “jungle” and some 3,000 in another nearby camp, hoping to reach Britain, where better job opportunities and the more familiar English language are big lures. Most attempt the crossing by trying to board trains or trucks.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)