French anti-migrant group to face trial over border 'patrols'

Gap (France) (AFP) –


A French anti-migrant group and three of its members will stand trial next month over blockades set up in the Alps to stop migrants crossing over the border from Italy, prosecutors said Monday.

Generation Identitaire (Generation Identity) staged a series of vigilante patrols in spring 2018 along mountain passes in southeast France aimed at intercepting migrants.

Their "Defend Europe" missions included unfurling netting along stretches of the France-Italy border, or carrying out pick-up patrols along Alpine roads.

They were often pitted against activists offering aid to people trying to cross the snow-covered passes, some of whom were later sentenced on charges of helping migrants enter the country.

In one confrontation, around 100 activists helped escort some 20 migrants over a pass after they were halted by an anti-migrant blockade on April 21, 2018.

Several activists were later convicted of illegally helping migrants cross into France, prompting critics to charge they were being punished for "crimes of solidarity".

Prosecutors in the southeastern city of Gap said Generation Identitaire would now also be charged, for carrying out operations that gave the impression it was providing an official public service.

The group's president Clement Gandelin and spokesman Romain Espino, along with a third member who took part in the patrols, could face up to a year in prison and fines of up to 15,000 euros ($16,800).

They had said last year's campaign was based on French laws authorising individuals to apprehend the authors of flagrant offences.

The group claimed to have handed over four "illegals" to police while providing information which led to the arrest of seven others last spring. It has not renewed operations in the Alps this year.

France tightened asylum and immigration laws last August in response to the huge influx of migrants to Europe since 2015.

The government says the new rules speed up asylum requests while ensuring "controlled immigration", but critics charge they limit migrant arrivals and make it more likely they could be sent back to countries suffering from war and economic misery.