Jail threat haunts unlikely lover of Calais migrant

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 21, 2017 9:36 AM

By Flavien Bellouti and Michaela Cabrera

CALAIS, France (Reuters) - She once supported France's anti-immigrant National Front party. She met and fell in love with Mokhtar, a teacher who fled Iran and ended up in Calais. She now risks 10 years in jail.

Beatrice Huret, a former nursing aide who voted and even campaigned for the National Front, regrets nothing of her unlikely encounter - except that she is accused of people trafficking and could be put behind bars.

"I knew I should not do it but I did not imagine this would be the consequence," says Huret, whose case will be ruled on by a court next week.

"They know I did this out of love," she told Reuters. "What bothers me the most is to be put in the same bag as others who made people pay for the crossing, people who profited from misery of the refugees."

Mokhtar, who wants his family name withheld because he fears jeopardizing his situation, now lives in England on the opposite side of the sea from Calais, the French port city from which thousands like him have sought to reach Britain, many without success.

He crossed the English Channel in a small boat he bought for a 1,000 euros ($1,115) and which Huret helped him choose, setting out with two others from the village of Dannes about 50 km south of Calais and a similar distance from the shores of England.

"I said farewell to him that morning," says Huret, a little wistfully. "I did not say until next time, I said farewell. I was sure I was never going to see him again."

Mokhtar and Huret was a meeting against all odds.

Her deceased husband had been a policeman who also voted for the National Front, a party that says France has no duty to welcome migrants who have fled to Europe in record numbers from war and strife in Africa and the Middle East.

Huret, who now devotes her time to aiding needy people, once even handed out leaflets for the party of Marine Le Pen, who lost the presidential election to centrist Emmanuel Macron last month, but won a seat in parliament along with seven other National Front politicians in a follow-up parliamentary election on June 18.

Politics aside, the encounter would almost certainly never have happened if Huret had not stopped to offer a hitchhiker a ride in her car to the entrance of The Jungle, a vast camp the hitcher shared with thousands of migrants, among them Mokhtar.

Shocked at the squalor she saw, Huret chose to take action, launching an appeal for funds to aid Jungle residents, visiting the site again and meeting Mokhtar, one of several camp dwellers who had stitched their lips together to draw media attention to their plight.

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That was in March 2016.

"We exchanged glances and something immediately clicked. It clicked," she reminisces.

When asked some time later to put a few migrants up in her house, Huret discovered one of them was the same Mokhtar.

"I already knew I had fallen in love. That was it, I was smitten," she says. "I didn't even know his first name."

Walking along the beach from which he set off for Britain in June 2016 , Huret said: "People say distance dulls the emotions but no it gets stronger each time. As for the rest we don't talk about it. We live it day by day."

A court is expected to rule on June 27 on Huret's case, where she faces a maximum potential sentence of 10 years in prison. She says Mokhtar, a former Farsi language teacher, has applied for asylum in Britain.

(This story has been refiled to change hitchhikers to a hitchiker.)

(Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Andrew Callus)