Two men who attempted to smuggle 39 migrants, including a 6-year-old boy and a teenage girl, out of the UK in the back of a refrigerated lorry have been jailed for 12 years.

    Driver Jamal Elkhadir, 47, from Morocco, and his accomplice Houcine Argoub, 32, from Bromley, were being watched by National Crime Agency officers when they met in a layby near Sandwich, Kent, in September 2023. Argoub, who was driving a van, parked close to Elkhadir’s Moroccan registered HGV and a number of people were seen to get out of the vehicle and climb into the back of the lorry.

    NCA officers intercepted the lorry, which could only be opened from the outside, when it arrived at the docks in Dover and 39 migrants of North African origin were found inside. The group, who were all Algerian or Moroccan, included a family travelling with their six-year-old son and a teenage girl. Elkhadir was arrested at the docks on suspicion of assisting unlawful immigration and Argoub was arrested at his home address for the same offence in November 2023.

    Elkhadir claimed he had been delivering cherry tomatoes to three businesses in the UK and had stopped for a rest break with the doors unlocked in the layby. He then changed his story and claimed he had been threatened at gunpoint to transport migrants to France. Both Elkhadir and Argoub pleaded guilty to assisting unlawful immigration when they appeared at Canterbury Crown Court on 13 March.

    Elkhadir was sentenced to six years and nine months imprisonment and Argoub received a prison sentence of five years and three months. NCA operations manager John Turner said: 

    “Elkhadir and Argoub were partners in this criminal enterprise to move migrants through the UK and smuggle them to France.

    “Their only concerns were about the money they were making and how they could avoid detection, not for the safety of those hiding in the back of the HGV.

    “This form of criminality not only puts people at risk, it also threatens the border security of both the UK and France, which is why the NCA works closely with partners here and overseas to tackle those facilitating illegal migrants in each direction.”

    “The same criminals who take people out of the UK illegally often bring them in too, which is why we are determined to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle the networks involved in people smuggling.”

    By Ed

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