Ex-soldier faces jail for smuggling Afghan child out of Calais jungle camp

Migrants are seen near their tents in the makeshift camp called the "New Jungle" as unseasonably cool temperatures arrive in Calais, northern France, October 21, 2015. © Pascal Rossignol
Overcome by paternal instincts, 49-year-old army veteran Rob Lawrie tried to smuggle four-year-old Bahar out of the “horrendous” Calais refugee camp and take her to Britain to be with her relatives.

Caught at Calais border control committing what he calls a crime of “compassion,” the Leeds-based father-of-four now faces charges for aiding illegal immigration, which can carry a penalty of up to five years in prison and the equivalent of £21,000 in fines under French law.

I know I have committed a crime but all I am guilty of is compassion,” Lawrie told The Independent on Monday.

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 camp] all rational thought goes out of your head.

Lawrie had been bringing aid into the refugee camp and had stayed on to build shelters when he met Bahar.

He said he had been affected the images of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, who washed up on a Turkish beach in September.

The picture destroyed me,” he said. “I packed up my carpet-cleaning business, sold the family people carrier and bought a transit van.

READ MORE: UK unprepared for Syrian refugees, MPs warn

I appealed for stuff to take to Calais and got absolutely swamped with clothing, sleeping bags and tents.

On arrival at the camp, he met Bahar and her father, Reza. Her mother had been lost in Afghanistan.

She started following me everywhere,” Lawrie said. “She was just an innocent little girl who had lost the birth lottery.”

Overcome with “paternal instinct” and after repeatedly refusing requests by Bahar’s father to take her to safety, Lawrie relented and hid the child in a storage compartment in his van.

At customs, sniffer dogs detected two Eritreans who had hidden in the back of the van and Bahar was eventually found as well.

Lawrie was arrested and later bailed to appear in a French court in January. Bahar was returned to her father in the jungle camp.

Speaking to Lawrie’s local paper, The Wharfedale Observer, Liberal Democrat councilor Ray Georgeson said many local people were concerned for him and had contributed what they could to the refugee crisis.

Whilst acknowledging Mr Lawrie himself has pleaded guilty to the charges made, I hope his humanitarian motivation in response to this horrendous refugee crisis is fully taken into account in any judgment reached by the French authorities,” Georgeson said.

Lawrie remains philosophical ahead of his court appearance. “I am a 49-year-old ex-soldier. I can handle what life throws at me,” he said.

My concern is for Bahar, and children like her.