A British pilot and two other UK nationals have been arrested by French police on suspicion of people-smuggling, as their Cessna plane was about to fly from Calais to Britain with four Albanian migrants on board.
“This is the first time that we have come across attempted people-smuggling by plane” in the Calais region, the Boulogne deputy prosecutor handling the case, Philippe Sabatier, said.
Calais has, for years, been a magnet for migrants hoping to sneak into the UK but mostly they try to stow away on trucks heading for the ferry port or the Eurotunnel terminal.
Officials would not give the names of the arrested men, who were aged between 45 and 54, or say where in Britain they were from, or which airfield or airport in Britain the plane was heading for when it was intercepted.
The plane, a four-seat, single-engine Cessna 172 Skyhawk, was still on the ground and the pilot was at the controls preparing for take-off at Calais-Dunkirk airport, which is located in Marck, but the migrants had not boarded when police moved in on Monday afternoon.
“We do not yet have a full profile of the pilot. Investigators are waiting for British authorities to send information,” the prosecutor’s office said; adding that police were hoping to identify other people involved in the attempted people-smuggling operation.
One of the four Albanian migrants and her child had “disappeared” after they were sent to hospital for checks, officials said. The other two, a man and a woman, were being held in a migrant detention centre.
The thwarted attempt to fly migrants into the UK came just a day before three migrants – believed to be an Afghan, a Pakistani, and an Iranian – abandoned their bid to get to England in a dinghy, and returned to the French shore suffering from hypothermia.
At the weekend, another migrant was picked up by a small yacht in the Channel near Dunkirk after he was found out at sea on a raft he had made from planks of wood and bottles. French authorities last October shut down a huge migrant camp near Calais nicknamed the “Jungle” which at its peak was home to more than 10,000 people, most of them hoping to make it to the UK.
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