By Yves Clarisse
A top French court on Friday ruled that the “principle of fraternity” should have shielded an olive farmer from prosecution over his role in helping hundreds of migrants to enter the country illegally.
Cedric Herrou received a four-month suspended prison sentence last August for taking migrants from the Italian border to his farmhouse in the Roya Valley in southeastern France and housing them in a makeshift camp at a disused railway premises.
“The concept of fraternity confers the freedom to help others, for humanitarian purposes, without consideration for the legality of their stay on national territory,” the constitutional court ruled.
Fraternity is one of three values that make up France’s constitutionally enshrined national motto: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
The court said France’s parliament should adapt the law, and its ruling could reverberate across the European Union at a time of deep divisions within the bloc on how to deal with migrants.
Migrants who successfully cross the Mediterranean sea from Libya and elsewhere to Italy often go north and try and slip across the mountainous border into France. France tightened its border controls in 2015.
Herrou has said he believed he had a duty to provide food and shelter to desperate migrants fleeing war, poverty and oppression.
French law covering the entry of foreigners and right to asylum states that anyone aiding “the unlawful entry, movement, or stay of a foreigner in France” is liable to face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($35,277.00).
However, it grants immunity to anyone who offers such help to a foreigner without receiving anything, such as money, in return. The court said the words “unlawful stay” should be removed to ensure that the principle of fraternity extends to those in France both legally and illegally.
In a statement, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the ruling was compatible with draft immigration and asylum legislation being debated in parliament.
The new law would double to 90 days the time in which illegal migrants can be detained, shortens deadlines to apply for asylum and makes the illegal crossing of borders an offense punishable by one year in jail and fines.
The center-right party, The Republicans, said it saw “major problems” with the ruling.
“This is an ideological victory for those who consider that illegal immigration is legitimate ...and an encouragement for those who think France doesn’t have the right to protect its borders,” Guillaume Larrive and Eric Ciotti, two of the party’s lawmakers, said.
Published on Reuters on July 6, 2018
France urged by UN experts to take effective measures to bring water and sanitation services to migrants
UN human rights experts* are urging the Government of France to do more to provide safe drinking water, sanitation services and emergency shelter for migrants and asylum-seekers in Calais, Grande-Synthe, Tatinghem, Dieppe and other areas along the northern French coast.
It is estimated that up to 900 migrants and asylum-seekers in Calais, 350 in Grande-Synthe, and an unidentified number at other sites elsewhere along the northern French coast are living without adequate emergency shelter and proper access to drinking water, toilets or washing facilities.
“Migrants and asylum-seekers along the northern French coast, including those not admitted to the sports centre in Grande-Synthe, are facing an inhumane situation, with some living in tents without toilets and washing themselves in polluted rivers or lakes,” said Léo Heller, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation.
“Some efforts have been made, but not enough. I am concerned that for every step forward, two steps are taken back. The situation along the northern French coast is emblematic of the need for much more attention from national and international authorities on this issue.”
Since last year, the French Government has taken temporary steps to provide access to emergency shelter, drinking water and sanitation for some migrants and asylum seekers. This includes contracting a local organisation to provide access to drinking water and shower facilities to migrants along the northern French coast, and hosting up to 200 migrants in a sports centre in Grande-Synthe.
The UN experts stressed that in the absence of valid alternatives in the provision of adequate housing, including in the Calais area, dismantling the camps was not a long-term solution. “We are concerned about increasingly regressive migration policies and the inhumane and substandard conditions suffered by migrants,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales.
“Migrants, regardless of their status, are entitled to human rights without discrimination, including access to adequate housing, education, healthcare, water and sanitation as well as access to justice and remedies. By depriving them of their rights or making access increasingly difficult, France is violating its international human rights obligations.”
The experts also called for action to end harassment and intimidation of volunteers and members of NGOs providing humanitarian aid to migrants. They urged France to fulfil its obligations and promote the crucial work of human rights defenders.
Heller will address the issue of the human rights to water and sanitation of forcibly displaced people in a report to the United Nations General Assembly later this year.
The Special Rapporteurs have already contacted the Government of France to seek clarification about the issues highlighted.
Published on OHCHR on April 4, 2018