Valley farmer faces jail for helping illegal immigrants
A farmer from a valley that runs across the Italian and French border has told Connexion he will carry on helping migrants who cross from Italy to where he lives – even if he goes to prison.
Cédric Herrou faces jail for helping 50 Eritrean migrants and hiding them in an old holiday village in the Roya Valley in Alpes-Maritimes. He said: “Politicians talk about migrants in terms of numbers and statistics but these are real people.
“The powers-that-be would prefer it if they just disappeared, but they can’t. All we are doing is helping people have access to their rights: the rights for minors to be looked after by the state and the right for people to claim refugee status.”
He said young migrants risked their lives to get into France and five had already been killed on the A8 motorway or the main railway and he was only offering humanitarian aid.
A court in Nice decides his fate on February 10 with the prosecutor calling for an eight-month suspended sentence, confiscation of Mr Herrou’s van and restrictions on his right to drive apart from for work.
The maximum penalty is five years’ jail and a €30,000 fine for what his supporters call ‘the crime of solidarity’.
Mr Herrou is one of around 80 valley residents who have formed an association to help migrants who cross the border.
In the summer at its peak 100 people a week were illegally crossing from Italy into France, claiming to be fleeing repressive policies in their own countries and in search of a new home. They come mainly from Eritrea but also from Sudan and Chad.
Mr Herrou said France’s borders had been closed since the July 14 terror attack in Nice despite the Schengen open borders agreement.
He told Connexion that when faced with the reality of needy people arriving on your property you have to do something to help, whether illegal or not. He offers food and healthcare: “There are often young people and many who are sick and have psychological problems after all they have endured.
“Many stay in caravans on my farm until they move on to find family and friends, perhaps in Belgium or Germany. I am happy to go to court to explain what I have been doing. It is a social problem and questions have to be asked.
“But I don’t think I should be punished for it.”
He is not the first to have been prosecuted. In January Pierre-Alain Mannoni was accused of helping three Eritrean migrants who had entered France from Italy, but was acquitted by a judge in Nice.
However, former Nice mayor Christian Estrosi said the verdict was “an insult to the work of the security forces who risk their lives to protect ours.”
In December, the appeal court in Aix-en-Provence upheld a €1,500 fine imposed on a 73-year-old retired professor found guilty of helping two Eritreans avoid a police check.
Fifteen migrants were staying with Mr Herrou when Connexion spoke to him. He said: “I will continue until I end up in prison. I’d like France to open the borders and work to find a solution. No politician has bothered to come to meet the actual migrants.”
Nice-Matin readers voted him ‘man of the year’ but Alpes-Maritimes president Eric Ciotti said this was a disgrace and an “insult to the police and soldiers who guard our borders”.