French and British volunteers arrested for giving food to migrants in Italy

A British and two French volunteers were arrested in Italy while distributing food to migrants which is banned in the town of Ventimiglia near the border with France, their association and police said on Thursday.

French and British volunteers arrested for giving food to migrants in Italy
A French volunteer distributing food to migrants in Ventimiglia in 2016. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The three voluntary workers were charged with violating a city order.

“We were about ten people but they took the two drivers of the vehicles which had the food and Simon, a Briton who had forgotten his passport,” said one of them, Gerard Bonnet, 64.

“They took our fingerprints, a photo and released us,” he said.

Police in Ventimiglia, which has become a migrant bottleneck, told AFP the three had been arrested late on Monday for distributing food to the migrants, an offence which could lead to a fine of up 206 euros ($222). There is also a rarely used, three-month jail sentence available.

Map showing the location of Ventimiglia, which lies close to the French-Italian border.

“This activity has been banned by a decree from the mayor of Ventimiglia,” police said.

The mayor instituted the ban on distributing food to migrants in the summer of 2015 when their arrivals, at first sporadic, began to block the train station, according to city hall.

It insisted that the mayor had taken that action for sanitary reasons.

“He didn't take the decision lightly. The unregulated distribution of food poses problems,” city officials who declined to be named told AFP.

They pointed out that migrants can find assistance at a Red Cross camp outside the town and also from the Catholic charity Caritas.

The arrested volunteers were with the Roya Citoyenne (citizen) rights group in the Roya valley on the French-Italian border.

On the night of the arrests the group distributed 160 food bags including, apples and cans of tuna as well as some clothing for the migrants.

Since 2015 Europe has seen its worst migration crisis since World War II with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

Ventimiglia has seen protests by migrants, many of whom hope to travel through France to northern Europe, where they may have friends and relatives or think they would have better job prospects.

There have also been clashes between police and activists, leading to the death of one police officer in August 2016.

The crisis has also seen several people arrested for people-smuggling between Italy and France, some claiming they were acting for humanitarian purposes and others charging migrants exorbitant fees.


French police bust cross-Channel people-smuggling ring

French police have busted a major people-smuggling ring that has been sending migrants to Britain in dinghies, with more than a dozen boats and 700 life jackets seized in a raid, French authorities said Thursday.

French police bust cross-Channel people-smuggling ring

The ring was run by Iraqi Kurdish migrants and had a logistics hub in Lille, a northern French city about 100 kilmetres (60 miles) from the northern Channel beaches around Calais that are used for crossings.

Three Iraqi men have been charged, along with three French suspects after their arrest on Monday.

Police discovered “a real factory supplying nautical equipment” in Lille, the head of French anti-migration agency Ocriest, Xavier Delrieu, told AFP.

In what was their biggest ever seizure of equipment, they found 13 inflatable boats, 14 outboard engines, 700 life jackets, 100 pumps and 700 litres of fuel, Delrieu said.

The group is suspected of having organised 80 Channel crossings over the summer, of which 50 succeeded, with the smugglers netting around €80,000 for each one.

The arrests came due to intelligence-sharing between authorities in Belgium, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, who are all trying to crack down on migrants crossing the Channel by boat.

The original tip-off came after a border guard control discovered a group of French youths carrying inflatables from Germany into the Netherlands.

More migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK from northern France so far this year than in the whole of 2021.

So far this year, more than 30,000 people have been detected crossing the Channel to the UK, fresh government figures showed Thursday. On Wednesday alone, the authorities detected another 667 people.

Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, has faced some criticism from other Conservatives and in right-wing media outlets for not pressing for more French action against the crossings when she met President Emmanuel Macron in New York on Tuesday.

Downing Street said the issue did not come up at their talks on the margins of the UN General Assembly, which instead focused on common ground including Ukraine and energy security.

The crossings are among a host of issues that have badly strained Franco-British relations in recent years.