MEMBERS of a smuggling gang which brought four Vietnamese migrants across the Channel on a ‘tiny’ inflatable boat have been jailed for more than 27 years.
Six smugglers were convicted of conspiracy to facilitate unlawful immigration after the migrants were taken from France to Deal in Kent.
One of the migrants told a trial at St Albans Crown Court he was promised free accommodation and food in exchange for labour, police said.
A specialist police unit arrested the gang after the Vietnamese nationals were seen climbing from a rigid hulled inflatable boat and walking to a waiting vehicle on August 3 2018.
The police swoop happened after surveillance which included a Border Force patrol boat.
Nazmi Velia, 32, of Park Street Lane, St Albans, and Hoa Thi Nguyen, 49, of Bisterne Avenue, Walthamstow, London, were described as ringleaders of the gang.
Velia was jailed for five years and four months and Nguyen was sentenced to eight years.
The two transporters’ were Egert Kajaci, 35, of Turn Drive, Oxford, and Thomas Mason, 36, of High Street, Eyeworth, Bedfordshire.
Mason was jailed for eight years and Kajaci's sentencing was deferred until March 18.
Erald Gapi, 27, of Abinger Grove, Deptford, was jailed for 21 months, Chi Tan Huynh, 41, of Wharf Road, London, was jailed for two and a half years, and Wayne Lee, 47, of Grasmere Close, Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire, for two years.
They were said to have played ‘significant roles within the group’.
Patrick Ward, 33, of Chennels Close, Hitchin, was prosecuted in Dunkirk, France, for assisting the entry and movement of irregular foreign nationals.
He received a six-month suspended jail sentence, £2,000 fine and a three-year ban from entering France.
One migrant said he did not know what country he was in when they left France and had to cling on to a strap to prevent him falling from the boat, police said.
The gang targeted migrants, predominantly those from Vietnam who were in France and Belgium, on several occasions between April and August 2018.
Detective Inspector Trevor Davidson, who led the investigation for the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU), said: ‘Not only was the operation highly illegal, the group were putting the lives of the migrants at risk, forcing them to travel without life jackets in a tiny boat across the Channel at night, for their own financial gain.’
The ERSOU is a regional organised crime unit which also worked with the Border Force and National Crime Agency during the operation.