An asylum seeker who piloted a small boat across the Channel packed with as many as 80 passengers including his heavily pregnant wife has been jailed.
Sudanese national Howmalow Mawum-Duop was spotted steering the “grossly over-loaded and over-crowded” vessel as it made its way into English waters on the morning of September 26 last year.
Canterbury Crown Court heard the boat could be seen taking in water and those on board desperately trying to bail it out.
According to the National Crime Agency (NCA), 22-year-old Mawum-Duop was subsequently arrested as part of an investigation into the death of a woman whose body was found on a beach near Calais that same day.
It was later reported she was a 24-year-old Eritrean national believed to have drowned while attempting the crossing.
However, at Duop’s sentencing hearing on Friday (February 2), no mention was made of her death and the court was told all those found onboard the stricken inflatable when it was intercepted by the authorities had been safely rescued.
They included Mawum-Duop’s wife who subsequently gave birth once in the UK.
The couple were said to have set off from Sudan as long ago as January 2021 and then travelled to Chad, Libya and Tunisia, before reaching Italy and journeying to northern France.
Prosecutor Oliver Wellings told the court that having made it to the coast they then paid a total of about 1500 euros to make the perilous crossing.
“He said he had been watching the group (on the beach) and then joined them,” explained Mr Wellings.
“His wife paid but not him, which may explain why he was given the role of steering the vessel.”
It is well-known that those organising people-smuggling operations often waive payment in return for piloting a boat.
Mawum-Duop, who on arrival in the UK was taken to the immigration facility at Manston and arrested the following day, later admitted assisting unlawful immigration.
Phil Rowley, defending, told the court Mawum-Duop, a painter by trade, was just 19 when he and his “slightly younger” spouse fled their war-torn homeland out of fear for their safety.
Their journey from the Sudan had been “long and tortuous”, with much of it undertaken on foot.
But Mr Rowley said it was made simply in the hope of making “a better life” together.
The court heard Mawum-Duop’s wife was eventually relocated from Manston to Warrington where she gave birth last year.
‘We are determined that individuals who put other people’s lives at risk in pursuit of profit are held accountable…’
Jailing the asylum seeker for 18 months, Judge Mark Weekes said it was “poignant to observe” that the adjoining courtroom was hearing a trial which concerned the deaths of four migrants who had made a similar crossing.
But he added that the courts “must take a stand” against those involved in breaching UK immigration law.
After the sentencing hearing Kathryn Philpott, NCA senior investigating officer, said: “Tackling people smuggling is one of the highest priorities for the National Crime Agency, and we are determined that individuals who put other people’s lives at risk in pursuit of profit are held accountable.
“Working closely with our partners in France, we were able to stop this boat off the coast of England, safeguard those aboard and ensure that Mawum-Duop was brought to justice.”
The NCA also confirmed that the investigation into the death of the female migrant, which is being led by the French authorities, continues.