French Court jails 14 Sri Lankans for people-smuggling | Sunday Observer

French Court jails 14 Sri Lankans for people-smuggling

22 January, 2023

A Court in Northern France has sentenced 14 Sri Lankans to prison for operating a people-smuggling ring across Europe – part of a Continent-wide attempt to crack down on the lucrative criminal networks.

The main suspect, accused of overseeing the operation from a grocery store in the village of Serifontaine, 80 km North of Paris, was handed a four-year prison term, with one year suspended.

Investigators determined that he set the prices and routes for moving migrants from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh across the Continent from Ukraine, with the help of bribes to officials in Eastern Europe.

Another suspect, who is based in Britain but fighting extradition (to Sri Lanka) requests, was given a five-year sentence, while the others were given shorter prison terms.

Smuggling gangs have flourished as increasing numbers of migrants have headed for Europe in recent years, with many hoping to cross the English Channel and reach Britain.

Over 45,000 migrants made the perilous crossing from mainland Europe to Britain in 2022, surpassing the previous year’s record by more than 17,000, according to UK Government figures. The UK’s plan to send would-be asylum seekers to Rwanda had not discouraged smuggling rings and migrants.

The French legal action follows the deportation of 46 Sri Lankans on January 13 from the Administrative Authority of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean.

The French Embassy in Colombo said that those who had reached the French territory of Reunion on December 24, 2022, were deported after the rejection of the legal remedies taken by them.

Declaring such attempts would be pointless, the Embassy warned the journey by boat in extremely precarious conditions is particularly dangerous and placed the lives of migrants, especially children, in serious danger.

“The fight against human smuggling and smugglers is a priority for France, which works in close cooperation with the countries of departure to increase its effectiveness. This Embassy emphasises in this respect the excellent operational cooperation that exists with Sri Lanka, in compliance with our legislation,” the media release from the Embassy said.

According to the Sri Lanka Navy, the group had set out aboard a multi-day fishing trawler from Negombo on December 2, 2022. The group consisted of 43 men, including the crew of the multi-day fishing trawler, two women and a 13-year-old boy. They were from Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Mannar, Batticaloa, Chilaw and Negombo.

Initial investigations had revealed that the human smugglers had charged each person Rs. 200,00 - 450,000. - RFI