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British ex-soldier Rob Lawrie faces jail for helping an Afghan refugee girl

Ha provato ad aiutare una bambina afgana, bloccata nella “giungla di Calais”, a raggiungere la famiglia a Leeds. Rob Lawrie ora rischia la reclusione.

Rob Lawrie, 49, is a British ex-soldier and father of 4 kids. He lives in Guiseley, village close to the city of Leeds. He quit his job to go to the so called “Calais jungle”, the French refugee camp that hosts thousands of migrants waiting for crossing the English Channel. Today, he could be sentenced to jail for attempting to smuggle an Afghan girl out of the migrant camp into the UK to join her family.

 

Calais, a hell on earth of epidemics, rapes, and malnutrition

Lawrie’s decision of dedicating himself to the cause of migrants came after he saw the dreadful images of Aylan Kurdi, Syrian little boy washed up on a Turkish beach. The ex-soldier – who served for 7 years in the army – decided to create a group of volunteers to collect clothes and food to take to Calais.

 

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Over 100,000 people signed the petition for Rob Lawrie ©Mark Kerrison/Demotix/Corbis

 

Once in Calais, he found hell on earth: “The conditions were horrendous. It reminded me of Mumbai rubbish tips,” Lawrie said to the French newspaper Le Monde. Scabies epidemics, untreated fractures, malnutrition, raped women. In November, the administrative court of Lille ordered the French State to carry out a census of isolated minors, provide enough drinking water, install toilets, launch an effective waste disposal system, and provide access to ambulances.

The horror of Calais in a video published by Rob Lawrie

In order to denounce such situation, Lawrie has published a video, entitled “The Truth”, made of pictures gathered across his French stays. During one of his journeys he met a girl, Bahar Ahmadi, and her father Reza, who fled Afghanistan because they were threatened by the Taliban. Their objective was reaching their relatives who are legally settled in Leeds.

 

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The living conditions in the “Calais Jungle”, northern France, are dreadful ©Antonio Masiello/NurPhoto/Corbis

 

Reza had desperately asked Lawrie a few times to smuggle the girl out of Calais into the UK. “I had always said no,” said Lawrie to the BBC. “Then, on my last journey we were sat round a campfire and Bahar was sat on my knee and she just snuggled in and fell asleep in my lap”.

 

“I couldn’t leave her in that place”

Lawrie told The Independent: “I know I have committed a crime but all I am guilty of is compassion. I just couldn’t leave Bahar to spend one more night in that horrendous place. And when you have seen what I have seen all rational thought goes out of your head”. He then hid the girl in his transit van, above the driver’s seat. Border control sniffer dogs detected two Eritreans who had hidden themselves in the back of his van, unbeknown to him. Police then found Bahar too.

 

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Most of migrants in Calais come from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq ©Gail Orenstein/NurPhoto/Corbis

 

Lawrie has been immediately arrested but he’s now on probation and has been bailed to appear in court in Boulogne-sur-Mer on 14 January. He faces up to 5 years in jail. People set up an online petition that has attracted over 100,000 people. According to Change.org, “Yes Rob broke the law but does he really deserve to go to jail for such a long time for demonstrating some humanity?”

 

Cover photo ©Mark Kerrison/Demotix/Corbis

 

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