Smugglers ‘would have killed me’ for refusing to pilot boat, migrant tells court

An asylum seeker said he would have been killed by smugglers if had refused to pilot a boat in the English Channel where four people drowned, a court has heard.

Ibrahima Bah, from Senegal, is accused of the manslaughter of four fellow migrants while seeking to get from France to the UK on December 14 2022.

At Canterbury Crown Court on Friday, the defendant told jurors he agreed to pilot the boat before he had seen it, in exchange for free travel for himself and his friend.

But Bah, who is over 18, said that when he saw the boat after it was pumped up on the beach, he changed his mind because it was too small for the number of people travelling.

Bah said that when he told the smugglers at the beach he would not travel in it, he was assaulted.

Bah said: “Once we got there and I saw that boat had been assembled, and I then saw the number of people who were going to be travelling, that’s when I said ‘no I’m not doing it’.

“When I said I’m not doing it, I was beaten up and they showed me that if I didn’t pilot the boat they were going to beat me up and kill me.”

He said he did not ask his fellow passengers for help, adding: “They were all scared, some of them had been slapped, kicked, with a stick.

“I thought I did my best to try and escape from them (the smugglers) but I couldn’t.”

During the cross-examination, prosecutor Duncan Atkinson KC accused Bah of changing the reasons why he refused to pilot the boat, for example in previous statements where he said it was a little boat with a big engine, and that previous boats he piloted were wooden.

He also accused Bah of not telling the truth about being forced to pilot the boat.

Bah replied: “Everything I said about the reason for me not wanting to drive that boat is correct, I’m the one who went through this experience, I’m the one who is before this court today, so I know what I’m talking about.”

The court heard that it was Bah’s dream to come to the UK to claim asylum, and he had left Senegal in 2019.

He told police, when he arrived in the UK, that he had travelled from Senegal to Mali, Algeria and then Libya, before going by boat to Italy using smugglers.

He had previously worked on fishing boats in Senegal, sometimes helping with fishing and steering the boat, and assisted in piloting the boat from Libya to Italy.

Bah told jurors he was in Dunkerque, France, for three months and one day when he was charging his phone an Afghan man saw a picture on it of him by the engine of the boat for the Libya-Italy crossing.

He said if he showed the picture to a man he could let him travel for free with his friend.

Of the journey itself, Bah said: “My intention was to get here safely. Get on the water to be picked up so we could claim asylum.

“To reach a boat that could save us, that was the aim for all of us.”

Bah is also on trial accused of facilitating illegal entry to the UK but he denied knowing he was travelling to the country illegally.

“To me the law allowed me to go to any country to claim asylum,” he said.

“That was the only way for me to enter this country and make my asylum application.

“What all of us wanted to do was enter British waters and see a ship that could help us to claim asylum.”

The cross-examination continues.

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