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Frenchwoman spared prison for smuggling migrant lover

© Benjamin Massot, AFP | Béatrice Huret in her home in Wierre-Effroy, northern France, on June 7, 2017.

A former supporter of France's anti-immigration National Front escaped punishment on Tuesday for helping her Iranian refugee lover cross the Channel to Britain on a rickety boat.

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Beatrice Huret, 44, was found guilty at trial of helping Mokhtar -- whom she met while volunteering at the since-demolished "Jungle" migrant camp in Calais -- slip out of France under cover of night in a boat she had bought for 1,000 euros ($1,130).

Although prosecutors requested a one-year prison sentence for illegally assisting migrants and putting them in danger, the court in the town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, near Calais, ruled she should not face jail or a fine.

Arriving at the courthouse, Huret said that she hoped the trial would help others "understand what I did and why I did it" and that she took "full responsibility" for her actions.

"I am prepared to give up my life for him. The only thing that would bother me is that I would no longer be able to see Mokhtar if I'm in jail," Huret, who has a 19-year-old son, said.

After the verdict, she told AFP she was "relieved".

Prosecutor Camille Gourlin argued that Huret had put the lives of Mokhtar and two other Iranian men in danger by helping them take a boat across the Channel, one of the world's busiest shipping routes.

They were rescued by the British coastguard as their boat began to take in water.

"Solidarity is laudable but not at any price and not in any conditions," the prosecutor said.

"In 2016, more than 5,000 migrants died in the Mediterranean in boats... We don't want to be collecting corpses from the beaches of Pas-de-Calais," she said, referring to the northern region.

The prosecutor said Huret's argument that she had acted out of love did not explain why she had helped other migrants to cross the Channel even after Mokhtar had left France.

'Love at first sight'

Huret's life was transformed in February 2015 when she gave a lift to a young Sudanese migrant travelling to the makeshift Jungle camp, where thousands of people hoping to stow away on trucks bound for Britain were living in tents and shacks.

"It was a shock to see all these people wading around in the mud," said Huret, whose husband -- a border police officer -- died of cancer in 2010.

She began volunteering at the camp and a year later met 37-year-old Mokhtar, who was among a group of Iranians who sewed their mouths shut in protest over the demolition of part of the camp in March 2016.

"It was love at first sight," Huret told AFP in an interview this month.

After a failed bid by Mokhtar to hide in the back of a lorry, she helped him acquire a small boat and towed it to a beach from where he and two other Iranians crossed to England on June 11, 2016.

Mokhtar, who is living in the northern English city of Sheffield, has since received asylum. Huret visits him frequently.

She has written a book about their romance, "Calais Mon Amour", for which several film-makers are vying to acquire the rights.

She is one of several people to appear in court in recent months charged with illegally assisting migrants from Africa and the Middle East who travel through Europe after crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy boats or stowing away in trucks travelling overland via Turkey.

Since demolishing the Jungle camp in October French authorities have taken a stern line on illegal migration, accusing activists who provide assistance to homeless foreigners of creating a "pull" effect.

A 37-year-old olive farmer in southern France was recently fined 3,000 euros ($3,300) for helping African migrants cross the border from Italy and giving them accommodation.

(AFP)

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