French 'rebel valley' farmer given suspended jail term for helping migrants
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A French court of appeal has handed down a four-month suspended jail term on Cédric Herrou, an olive farmer renowned for helping migrants slip across the border from Italy.
The sentence is stiffer than the €3,000 suspended fine handed by a court in Nice earlier this year, though it falls short of the eight-month suspended prison term prosecutors had requested.
Herrou, whose farm is located a few kilometres from the Italian border, was also tried for giving shelter to around 50 migrants from Eritrea in an abandoned holiday camp.
The unrepentant farmer said he had "no regrets" and would appeal the ruling before the Cour de Cassation (France's final court of appeal), calling it his citizen's duty to make up for the shortcomings of the French state.
He said he had hosted "between 2,500 and 3,000 migrants" on his property in Breil-sur-Roya over the past 18 months, and would continue doing so.
Herrou is one of several people to appear in court in southern France recently charged with illegally assisting migrants who have travelled up through Europe after crossing the Mediterranean in rickety boats.
Their cases have cast a spotlight on the actions of residents of the Roya Valley, dubbed the “rebel valley”, who have been helping migrants across the border from Italy, providing food and shelter, tending to their wounds and offering lifts to nearby towns.
On January 7, a court acquitted researcher Pierre-Alain Mannoni, who had faced a six-month suspended jail sentence for aiding Eritrean migrants who entered France through the valley.
Such cases have pitched the traditional spirit of solidarity against the letter of the law at a time when border controls and migration have become hot-button issues, particularly earlier in the year in the run-up to the presidential and legislative elections in France.
France has accepted relatively few migrants compared with the more than one million taken in by Germany since 2015. But many travel though the country, often attempting to reach Britain or other countries in northern Europe.
A squalid makeshift camp dubbed "The Jungle" in the northern French port of Calais was dismantled by authorities in October last year.
Paris city authorities have now laid on more permanent accommodation centres after tented camps sprang up around the capital.