Frenchman cleared of charges for aiding migrants

A French court on Wednesday scrapped all charges against a man who helped migrants enter the country illegally, the final chapter in a groundbreaking case that defined so-called "crimes of solidarity".

Frenchman cleared of charges for aiding migrants
Lyon's Court of Appeal acquitted Cédric Herrou over helping migrants cross Alps. Photo: AFP

Cedric Herrou, an olive farmer in southern France who helped about 200 migrants cross the border from Italy, was given a four-month suspended sentence in August 2017.

He had brought the destitute migrants home and set up a camp for them. He was also convicted of sheltering some 50 Eritreans in a disused railway building.

READ MORE: 'Heroic' farmer faces prison for helping migrants into France

France's Constitutional Council later said Herrou's actions were not a crime under the “principle of fraternity” as enshrined in France's motto “Liberty, Egality, Fraternity.”

The council, which evaluates the validity of French laws, ruled that people cannot be prosecuted for “crimes of solidarity”.

In December 2018, the Cour de Cassation – France's court of final appeal – overturned Herrou's conviction and sent the case back to the appeals court in the city of Lyon which on Wednesday voided all charges.

“Reason and the law has triumphed,” said Sabrina Goldman, a lawyer on the case.

“Why focus on someone who did nothing but help? How can what he did be regarded as anything other than a humanitarian act?”

Rights body Amnesty International said the ruling will have implications throughout Europe for the criminalisation of “acts of solidarity”.

“Cedric Herrou did nothing wrong, he simply showed compassion towards people abandoned in dire conditions by European states,” Amnesty's Rym Khadhraoui said in a statement.

“Whilst it is a relief that Cedric Herrou's ordeal is now over, he should never have been charged in the first place.”

French law should now be amended to ensure only people smuggling, which entails a material benefit, is regarded as an offence, and not humanitarian assistance, Khadhraoui added.

Member comments

  1. Another anarchist let off the hook! The migrants he helped illegally were not escaping from a war zone and did not require any ‘humanitarian’ assistance. They are merely economic migrants, and there are legal ways of getting into France and working here. We all have done it. I have done it.

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.