BOULOGNE-SUR-MER, France (AFP) – A former supporter of France’s anti-immigration National Front escaped punishment on Tuesday (June 27) for helping her Iranian refugee lover cross the Channel to Britain on a rickety boat.
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 ($1,500).
Although prosecutors requested a one-year suspended 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.
“We are both very relieved,” said a teary Huret, who phoned her lover immediately with the news.
Arriving at the courthouse earlier, she said she took “full responsibility” for her actions.
“I am prepared to give up my life for him,” the widowed mother of a 19-year-old son said.
Prosecutor Camille Gourlin argued that Huret and a French immigration activist also on trial 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.
Activist Laurent C, who was also found guilty but spared punishment, said he would continue to help migrants living rough on the streets of the northern French port.
'LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT'
A total of four people were tried for their role in helping migrants fleeing war, persecution or poverty in the Middle East or Africa reach Britain.
An Iranian migrant found in possession of 16,000 pounds ($20,370, 18,200 euros) in cash from alleged smuggling operations was sentenced to three years imprisonment, 16 months of which were suspended.
A French mother of four who lived opposite the Jungle camp received a six-month suspended sentence for ferrying migrants around by car.
Huret’s life was transformed in February 2015 when she gave a lift to a young Sudanese migrant travelling to the makeshift Calais 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.
CALAIS MON AMOUR
Mokhtar, who is now 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.
Since demolishing the Jungle camp in October French authorities have taken a stern line on assistance to migrants, accusing activists who provide assistance to homeless foreigners of creating a “pull” effect.
Huret is one of several people to appear in court in recent months charged with illegally assisting migrants from Africa and the Middle East who cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats or stow away in trucks travelling overland.
A 37-year-old olive farmer in southern France was recently fined 3,000 euros for helping African migrants cross into France from Italy and giving them accommodation