A migrant fleeing persecution in Iran who helped pilot a packed dingy across the Channel has had his conviction for breaching immigration law quashed.
Fouad Kakaei, 31, first came to the attention of the Border Force in July 2019 when he and 26 others were rescued from a small boat and brought to Dover, Kent.
In interview he admitted he and others took turns steering the dinghy during the journey.
Following their arrival at the port, all but Mr Kakaei claimed asylum and he agreed to return to Denmark where he had previously lodged an asylum claim.
But in December the same year, Mr Kakaei was spotted in another dinghy together with 10 others headed for Britain.
All aboard, including Mr Kakaei, claimed asylum upon reaching UK shores, the court heard.
He again admitted piloting the boat, telling an immigration officer the boat’s engine was problematic and no one else could do it and he feared they would all die at sea.
Mr Kakaei was jailed for two years and two months in January of this year at Canterbury Crown Court after admitting two charges of assisting unlawful immigration.
But at an appeal hearing on Thursday, Aneurin Brewer, for Mr Kakaei, said he had entered his pleas on a faulty basis, after the judge ruled the others on the boat had entered the country illegally.
Mr Brewer told the High Court in London that all of those on board had arrived at a designated entry point and immediately claimed asylum.
“If they are then allowed to enter for their asylum claims to be processed, there is no breach of immigration law for these purposes,” he said.
Mr Brewer said Mr Kakaei had little choice but to plead guilty, as the judge’s ruling left him with “no arguable defence to pursue before a jury”.
The court heard Mr Kakaei had not profited financially from steering the boat, and that the people smugglers who had arranged the crossing had effectively left those on board to their own devices.
Mr Brewer said that on both crossings, the migrants had alerted British authorities that they needed help.
“(The migrants) are trying to enter British waters so they can be intercepted so they are in a position to make a claim for asylum which they would not otherwise be permitted to make because they are not within Britain,” he said.
The court heard that none of the other people who were picked up from the same boat as Mr Kakaei were charged with any offence.
“The premise that this is an attempt to turn up at a remote beach and make a run for the tree line is wrong,” Mr Brewer said.
“They are expecting and seeking interception with intent to claim asylum.”
James Marsland, for the Crown, argued that despite the judge’s ruling at Canterbury Crown Court, Mr Kakaei could still have fought the case.
He said a jury might have had “considerable sympathy” for the argument that “a group of asylum seekers taking it in turns to man the tiller is not in any meaningful sense one person facilitating the entry of others”.
Three senior judges ruled Mr Kakaei’s conviction should be quashed with reasons for the decision due to be handed down at a later date.
Mr Marsland said it was the position of the Crown that it would seek a retrial, as the outcome may have a significant impact on Mr Kakaei’s asylum claim.
Mr Brewer pointed out that Mr Kakaei had already served the equivalent of a 30-month sentence due to time spent on remand and had been due to be released on April 14.
He said a retrial could see Mr Kakaei held in custody for a significantly longer period, and that his asylum claim was almost certainly doomed to failure regardless.
“The fact is (Mr Kakaei’s) asylum application is hopeless,” Mr Brewer said.
“He passed through a number of safe countries on his way to the UK – notably Germany and France.”
He continued: “On that basis I would submit that it is not in the interests of justice to delay the inevitable, which is his removal from the UK.”