Failed Iraqi asylum seeker accused of being part of people smuggling gang


A failed Iraqi asylum seeker who has been in the UK for 15 years is accused of being part of a gang that helped smuggle as many as 3,000 migrants into the country.

Basak Ahmed Sleman, 33, is said to have helped a Kurdish criminal network traffic around 100 illegal immigrants into the UK each week.

Up to 20 stowaways, including whole families at a time, were smuggled into the country five nights a week on a perilous journey aboard lorries that crossed the Channel from Belgium, Westminster Magistrates Court was told.

Illegal immigrants are said to have travelled from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Albania, boarding the lorries at motorway service stations.

Sleman, who came to the UK 15 years ago from his homeland and has leave to remain from the Home Office, despite his asylum status, is accused along with a second man, Shamel Zorab, 37, of being in contact with members of the smuggling network and collecting fees from migrants who were brought across the border.

The pair, neither of whom gave an address to the court, were arrested on Thursday in Birmingham and Salford.

Their lawyers said they would fight extradition to Belgium, where they face questions over their alleged role in the smuggling gang.

Prosecuting, Carl Kelvin told the court the trafficking was said to have taken place "over a considerable period of time, at least from May 2015, but probably before that".

He said: "Traffickers worked five days a week smuggling up to 30 people on each occasion - this included whole families - for criminal gain."

The court was told Sleman has previous convictions for using false registration cards and possessing improperly obtained identification documents belonging to someone else.

Defending him, Euan Macmillan said: "My client is a refugee in this country, he is an asylum seeker from Iraq, he has been here for 15 years, has never left the country for perhaps obvious reasons and he has no identification documents.

"He has Home Office leave to remain and has to report to a Home Office branch in Birmingham every six months."

Zorab, who the court heard has a string of previous convictions over many years including burglary and driving offences, said he would fight extradition as he has family in the UK and because he feared persecution in Belgium due to his Kurdish ethnicity.

Deputy chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot appeared surprised at the claim, saying: "In Belgium? Well, that will be interesting."

The pair were denied bail and ordered to return to the court on January 14 for another extradition hearing.

Ten further arrests have been made connection with the smuggling gang in Belgium, where a number of suspects await trial.