The 21 illegal immigrants smuggled into the territory last year had planned to fool Virgin Islands authorities that they were ‘Haitian refugees’ seeking asylum, the Magistrate’s Court has been told.
Those claims came from accused Haitian, Luc Eloi when he took the witness stand in court on Thursday.
Eloi is accused of being an active player in smuggling the near-two-dozen illegal persons.
While claiming he was only another migrant aboard the vessel that illegally landed in the BVI in April last year, Eloi told the court he and the other migrants believed they were being smuggled to the neighbouring United States Virgin Islands (USVI).
Thinking they were headed to the USVI, the illegal migrants collectively began to concoct the story of being in need of asylum, Eloi told the court.
Under US refugee legislation, the United States has a legal obligation to provide protection to ‘foreign nationals already in the United States or at the border who meet the international definition of a refugee’.
But, Eloi told the court that when they arrived at Bitter End on Virgin Gorda, BVI, his co-accused and now-convicted local boat captain, Carwill Potter instructed the illegal passengers to disembark the vessel.
Potter told them he was going to refuel and return to take them to St Thomas in the USVI, Eloi claimed.
The accused Haitian said the migrants – who were of various nationalities – were then made to disembark into the sea, a few metres away from land. Not wanting to swim the distance, Eloi said he opted to remain on the boat with Potter while he went to refuel.
But, unbeknown to him, Potter had no plans on returning. Eloi told the court the boat captain had a pre-arranged vehicle waiting at the Chalwell Marina in East End, Tortola.
He said he tried to follow Potter when they arrived on Tortola but Potter left him behind.
He told the court that when the authorities discovered him wandering on the streets of Tortola, he was in search of food.
Meanwhile, the smuggled migrants who were left back at Bitter End on Virgin Gorda eventually stumbled on a hotel where they were fed, handed over to the police, and repatriated.
Before their repatriation, however, they had all identified Eloi as Potter’s co-captain.
But Eloi claimed he was only ‘confused’ as the co-captain because, ‘coincidentally’, he did not disembark the vessel when they did. They also confused him as the co-captain because he is multilingual and had ‘helpfully’ opted to be a translator during the 12-hour journey to the BVI, the court heard.
One of the illegal migrants who testified in Eloi’s trial said the Haitian spoke English, Spanish, and French Creole, and was instrumental in calming the multinational group of passengers during a ‘tough’ backdoor entry into the territory.
Eloi’s trial concluded on Wednesday and he is now scheduled to return for sentencing on September 27.
The Haitian had pleaded guilty to illegal entry but not guilty to smuggling migrants and possession of proceeds of criminal conduct. His co-accused Potter has already pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 months in prison, back in May.
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