Egyptian fisherman accused of smuggling 50 migrants tells court he ‘regrets’ coming to UK

A man accused of smuggling 50 migrants across the channel to the UK today told a court he ‘regrets’ his decision and wishes he’d never left France.

Hamouda Chitioui, a fisherman from Egypt, allegedly piloted an ‘overloaded’ dinghy on June 29 last year.

He told jurors ‘he would not have come here’ if he knew he would be held in custody before being taken to trial.

Chitioui insists he is ‘not a smuggler’, despite being accused of attempting to dodge the £1710 fee to cross the channel by offering to pilot the vessel by prosecutors.

He denies claims he was the boat’s skipper and says instead that he was a paying passenger.

A small boat packed with people is rescued in English waters by BF Defender operated by Border Force and overseen by HMS Severn in the middle of the English Channel on the November 13 2022 near Folkestone, Kent

Jurors at Winchester Crown 'he would not have come here' if he knew he would be held in custody before being taken to trial

Jurors at Winchester Crown ‘he would not have come here’ if he knew he would be held in custody before being taken to trial

According to his testimony, he simply  stepped in to help and took control of the dinghy when its nominated skipper from Afghanistan became sea sick.

Chitioui is currently on trial at a British crown court after a Border Force boat intercepted the craft being driven by him six miles off the Kent coast.

The inflatable boat set sail from Northern France approximately two hours before it was intercepted at 7:30am, carrying 51 migrants, including Chitioui, from nations including Afghanistan, Irag, and Iran.

Chitioui, who has been in custody for a year, became emotional in court, denying claims of intentional smuggling 

He said: ‘I regret that I came here.’

‘Everyone comes on such trips, they are looking for a better future for themselves, they are just coming to improve their lives.

‘I am not a smuggler and my dream is to come to the UK and achieve that dream of mine.

‘It was just an attempt to try to do that to create a better future for myself and my family.

‘My mother and father are elderly people and probably will die because I have been in prison for a year now.

‘I don’t have money, no one gives me anything.

‘I lived in France for a year, it was one of the best years of my life, if I knew what was going to happen to me I would not have come here.’

According to Chitioui, he worked as a painter and labourer in his native Egypt, carrying out paving and tiling. 

He went to Libya for two years, working as a fisherman, before travelling to Italy on a 12-metre boat.

Chitioui then made his way to France, via Spain as a stowaway in a vehicle.

When he arrived in France he spent a year working in Paris as a carpenter and painter, earning 50 euros a day.

He told the court he paid 250 euros a month to rent a room with two others. 

The migrant said he had friends who travelled to England from France via a small boat on the Channel and obtained contact details for a smuggler and headed to Dunkirk.

He denied getting a free ride by piloting the boat, saying instead he paid and offered to ‘help’ if it was required.

He said: ‘All I want is to come just like anyone else.

‘I was talking to [friends in England] when I was in France. If you pay you get here. My friend passed me the number of the people they used.

‘Many people organise these trips, a lot of them in Dunkirk and Calais. There was different procedures.

‘I asked if I could help the driver.

‘The [agreement] is to pay him Euro 1,800, some people had to pay 2,200 euros, some had to pay 2,300 euros. I said if something happens on the boat I will help.’

On the boat, Chitioui claimed ‘everyone panicked’ when the driver fell ill.

‘The pilot became ill, he was throwing up’, he said.

‘Some others helped. It’s easy, if you get anyone from the street you can tell them to do it. The driver was unwell about an hour in, it was a two hour journey.

‘Others took control then the last half an hour I helped and that’s when [Border Force] came and photographed me.

‘Many people controlled the tiller. Everyone’s aim was to arrive safely, [the boat] could have turned over and people could die.’

Chitioui denies one count of assisting unlawful immigration to the UK. Jurors have been told he has already admitted attempting to enter the UK illegally.

On his arrest on June 29 last year, he became one of the first people to be arrested in the wake of then-Home Secretary Priti Patel’s 2022 Nationality and Borders Act, which came into force the day before.

Under current UK law, some citizens from certain countries need permission to enter the UK and must apply for a visa.

Yesterday the court heard that, as well as skippering the vessel, Chitioui was seen striking other passengers with his hand for not disembarking quickly enough on to the Border Force boat that intercepted them.

The number of migrants crossing the channel this year is steady increasing

The number of migrants crossing the channel this year is steady increasing 

Immigration officer Christopher Getley was given the task of keeping watch of Chitioui after the boat had been intercepted.

He told the court: ‘I saw him piloting it for about 12 minutes. He looked to be in control.

‘He was one of the last off the boat [when it was intercepted]. He was telling people what to do. People were not moving fast enough so he struck them, back of the hand. He seemed to be in control.’

Mr Getley said the small boat was ‘unsuitable’ and ‘overloaded’. He added: ‘The risk of an accident was our concern.’

The trial continues.