A former soldier from Leeds could face up to five years behind bars in a French jail after he attempted to smuggle a four-year-old girl out of the infamous Jungle camp near Calais.
Rob Lawrie, 49, called his actions a “crime of compassion” after his paternal instincts kicked in when he was asked to smuggle Bahar Ahmdai into Britain and take her to relatives who are already living in the UK legally.
However, he was caught at Calais border control and now faces a charge of aiding illegal immigration, which under French law carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of £21,400.
Speaking to the Independent, Rob said:
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 [in the Jungle] all rational thought goes out of your head.
Rob began transporting aid to the Jungle and helping refugees near Calais to build shelters, after he saw the shocking photograph of three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach. The image “destroyed” him, so much so that he sold the family people carrier, bought a transit van and appealed for donations to take to Calais.
It was while sharing a shelter with refugees in the Jungle that he first met Bahar, who was living in the camp with her father Reza after her mother had died in Afghanistan.
Reza repeatedly asked Rob to smuggle his daughter into the UK so she could live with her relatives in Leeds. Rob refused, until the night of October 24 when he realised: “I couldn’t leave her to go back to sleep on a dump”.
Rob hid Bahar above the driver’s seat, in one of his van’s storage compartments. However, unbeknownst to him, two Eritreans had also hidden themselves in the back of his van. Border control sniffer dogs detected the pair, and Rob was arrested, while Bahar was returned to her father in the Jungle.
Rob has now been bailed to appear in court in Boulogne-sur-Mer on January 14.
I am a 49-year-old ex-soldier. I can handle what life throws at me. My concern is for Bahar, and children like her.