United Kingdom — A former British soldier is facing up to five years in prison after attempting to smuggle a four-year-old Afghan refugee into the U.K.
Rob Lawrie met the young Afghan girl, Bahar, while providing aid to refugees in the notorious ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in the French town of Calais, located in northern France. The unofficial shantytown has quadrupled in size since it sprang up last October — an increase largely fueled by arriving refugees who hope to reach Britain. As a result, Calais has been dubbed “the largest slum in Europe.”
Thousands of men, women, and children sleep on damp wooden palettes. Diseases like scabies and diarrhea, along with other illnesses, sweep through the camp. An unforgiving winter now looms, and it is conditions like these that ultimately prompted Lawrie’s crime of compassion.
There is no U.N. or Red Cross presence in the camp. To add to the sense of permanence, a French court has recently ordered local officials to provide more sanitary facilities and rubbish disposal sites to ease the deteriorating situation. A new stream of funding for policing the area was recently granted, and according to the Guardian, it is not unusual for riot police armed with guns, truncheons, and full body armor to patrol the area.
Unlike the thousands of Europeans who have been moved to act in solidarity with refugees, 49-year-old Lawrie’s decision changed his life forever. After the young girl’s father begged him numerous times to take her out of the squalor to the safety of relatives who live just 20 miles from Lawrie’s home town of Guiseley, West Yorkshire — he gave in.
“It was one of those moments and I just said, ‘This is no life for a four-year-old’ and all rationality left me and I knew what I had to do.” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
After hiding the child in a compartment above the driver’s seat of his Transit van, he was stopped by border officials. He had no idea that two Eritrean boys had sneaked into his vehicle, but their presence led to the ex-soldier’s prompt arrest. Bahar was returned to the Jungle.
Having been charged and bailed to appear before a French court in January, Lawrie faces five years in prison or a £20,000 fine. Over 18,000 people have signed a petition urging British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond to seek clemency from French authorities. A Foreign Office spokesman said the department has been in contact with French police and will provide consular assistance if requested.
According to the UN, the number of people displaced worldwide currently stands at 59.5 million — a figure almost identical to the 60 million displaced following World War II.
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