Young people without history become accomplices of a network of migrant smugglers across Europe. This Friday, June 2, the Créteil court sentenced six men aged 21 to 26, most of them residing in Val-de-Marne, to terms of up to one year in prison for having facilitated the passage of 250 illegal aliens – from Tunisia, Syria, Afghanistan and Algeria – between the Balkans and Austria. These migrant transfers, carried out in the “go fast” manner with an opening car, took place between May and September 2022.

At the opening of the trial, the profile of the six defendants, four of whom appear detained, surprises the audience. Justice is ignored for five of them. Even more surprising, some have a high academic profile. Rental of cars or hotel rooms, driver or financier: these six little hands have nevertheless participated to varying degrees in the illegal trafficking of migrants on the Balkan route which connects Syria and Turkey to Austria, a popular hub in because of its rail connections which guarantee them easier passage between the different countries of the Schengen area.

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“Little mules”

The main route of entry into Europe, this route passing through Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary is used by a number of migrants who have doubled in 2022, according to the Office for the Fight against Illicit Trafficking in Migrants (OLTIM). What attract smugglers. “The people who organize this trafficking are ready for anything. They do not come from Val-de-Marne but from the countries directly concerned. The young defendants are just little mules, unaware of where they have set foot,” explains master Hatem Hsaini, lawyer for one of the defendants, who also works for a law firm in Thessaloniki in Greece, a region known for migrant smuggling.

For these young people, it is now becoming as easy to take a job as a courier as a seller. They were recruited via the Snapchat social network or Signal encrypted messaging. The organizers based in Turkey or the Balkans even send them YouTube tutorials to teach them how to become good smugglers. The vans were rented in cash from a mechanic in Seine-et-Marne.

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“Masters in Finance”

Easy money attracts profiles like that of Rachid*, driver of the opening car, whose financial situation is however correct. He is doing well in his studies – a master’s degree in finance from a major school in the capital – and has no mention in his criminal record. “By greed”, he said, he was trying to make some money to go on vacation.

In his mind, this mission ticks other boxes such as helping others: “When you saw the 15 migrants get out of a van that can hold 6 at most, did you realize what you were doing? », asks the president of the court. Rachid* replies confidently:

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“The situation is beyond me. I didn’t think I was participating in a big illegal traffic but simply doing a service. At the end of the ride, they seemed relieved and happy to have arrived in Austria. Some are fleeing the war. It’s not a tight ride in a van that will traumatize them. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything wrong.”The old lady and the young Afghan: at the origin of the Callac project, a beautiful encounter

“21 migrants in a van”

Questioned by the police, a Syrian foreigner taking part in the trip declared, however, that he had lived “a trip in difficult conditions where the smell and the lack of space were felt”. If, on the defense side, we highlight the humanitarian motivation of these young people whose parents sometimes come from the same countries as the migrants, for the prosecution, the answer is clear: we do not claim to be a savior when we receive a sum of money ranging from 700 to 2,000 euros for a trip.

On the bench of the defendants, the atmosphere is relaxed. None seem to feel the gravity of the acts in which they participated, without being the precursors. However, the new go-fast technique is inspired by that originally used in drug trafficking. We transport human beings in the same way as we transfer bags of drugs. Only two cars are needed: a first opening car in which there is a driver and another person responsible for spotting police checks. Then a van transporting this time the migrants from point A to point B.

During the viewing of a video shot by one of the defendants and placed under seal, “1, 2, 3… 21” migrants, according to the latter’s count, got out of a van driven by another defendant. The migrants are neither huddled together nor showing signs of suffering, leading lawyers to say that “This video is rather exculpatory “. As if this illegal smuggling of migrants was so well organized that we almost forget what we are involved in.

“Addiction to prostitutes”

It is moreover with a certain levity that the defendants answer the questions of the judge. “You say you only organized one trip, the one carrying the 21 migrants. However, your telephone records indicate that you were present at other times during the time of the events in Hungary,” asks the president of the court. Mounir*, a young man suspected of having played the role of co-organizer and not only of small hand, answers: ” No no. I was no longer going there to continue the traffic, but only because I developed an addiction to Slavic prostitutes”. Laughter in the assembly and yellow laughter from the side of the judges.

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The Créteil prosecutor’s office also prosecuted them for criminal association, an offense punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment. They all come from Val-de-Marne – Champigny-sur-Marne and Villeneuve-le-Roi – but at the hearing, they keep their relationship silent. If everyone played a more or less determined role in this affair, “we are a long way from traffic à la Pablo Escobar”, said one of the lawyers. The fact remains that none of them mentions other stakeholders in this case. “But who gave you this money? It was not the migrants who took out 2,000 euros in cash to pay for the trip”, asks the court several times. A question that will remain unanswered by the defendants.

‘No altruism’

In her submissions, the prosecutor wanted to sweep away the argument that the defendants acted out of altruism:

“There is no altruism, it is illegal behavior motivated by money. We have an encounter between two opposing realities: a migrant fleeing his reality and a defendant who wants to go on vacation”.

Aware, however, that the defendants are not the thinking heads of the network, the prosecution had requested release for the offense of criminal association, except for the two organizers. In its decision, the court chose to acquit the six defendants of the criminal association offense but condemned them for the offenses committed individually. The co-organizers are both sentenced to 36 months in prison, 18 of which are suspended. Another, a driver at the time of the events but in a state of legal recidivism, was sentenced to 24 months in prison, including 12 months suspended.

Two others, including Rachid*, escaped prison but will be under electronic surveillance. The last, accomplice of the band, leaves with 10 months of simple reprieve. The opportunity to remember that the bulk of the traffic is certainly elsewhere but that without the help of these little hands, the smuggling of migrants would struggle to develop.

*Names changed