A 35 year-old French citizen from Nice was caught trying to smuggle nine migrants from Italy to France in the back of his Audi, the French newspaper Le Parisien reported Wednesday. The driver, whose name has not yet been released by authorities, could face up to five years in jail and a fine of 30,000 euros, and the migrants were sent back to Italy.
The nine migrants, mostly from Pakistan and Afghanistan, were trying to reach the northern French city of Calais that connects France to the U.K. through a concrete tunnel under the English Channel. Crossing through the tunnel on foot is extremely dangerous as the roadway is shared by the Eurostar bullet train, as well as cars and trucks.
Thousands of migrants have been flocking to Calais over the past several weeks, making increasingly desperate attempts to get to the U.K., where they believe they will find better job opportunities and a stronger economy. Many of the migrants arriving in France and trying to go to the U.K. are asylum-seekers fleeing violence and civil war in nations like Syria, Afghanistan, and Sudan.
The man accused in the human trafficking incident had a long criminal past, but he had never been convicted for smuggling. He claimed that he was helping the migrants out of purely "humanitarian" motivations. Migrants told police, however, that the man had said he was a taxi driver and charged them between 50 and 100 euros to take them across the border.
An increasing number of French citizens have been engaging in this kind of petty smuggling, because of an economic crisis across Europe that has caused higher unemployment in France. Small business owners and even students have been found trying to smuggle migrants in their vehicles from France to the U.K.
At least 80 cases have been pursued in the French courts, with some smugglers charging up to 2,000 euros for a ride.