‘Crimes of Solidarity’ Once Again Lead to Outcry in France

Réfugiés Paris

Evidence of a refugee camp below an overground railway bridge in Paris's 18th arrondissement. #BACKTOTHESTREET, by Jeanne Menjoulet on Flickr CC-BY-2.0

According to a 2017 survey, 53% of the French survey participants believe the number of immigrants in their country is too high. Buoyed by public opinion support regarding a stronger immigration policy, French President Emmanuel Macron and his Minister of the Interior, Gérard Collomb, are putting the finishing touches on their Asylum and Immigration bill. The text, which has been highly criticised by all sides, is still in the turbulent consultation phase and is due to be presented before the Council of Ministers on 21 February. ‘Despite the debate on welcoming refugees, there is a palpable sense of dissuasion’, writes newspaper Le Monde. The proposed policy will aim to expel more failed asylum seekers and do it at a faster pace. Documented asylum seekers are projected to benefit from a sped up integration process.

And in fact, this tougher stance is not only observed within a legal context but also in everyday operations. On the ground, police action, such as slashing their tents in the depths of winter, against migrants outside the asylum system, and against those come to their aid, is relentless, and appear increasingly inhuman to individuals and associations, as well as to a growing number of human rights lawyers, observers, intellectuals and the media in general.

These legal actions are being dubbed ‘crimes of solidarity’ and are making a reappearance in the press and on social media.

Defiant citizens help migrants

In France, certain regions have a long tradition of providing refuge and assistance to foreigners. One such region is the Roya Valley, a French Alpine enclave deep within the Italian Ligurian Alps, which has been making headlines since 2015 (collection of photos here). Its most well-known activist, farmer Cédric Herrou, regularly shelters migrants at his farm after picking them up on the roadside — actions which have now resulted in a number of legal actions against him. His Facebook page describes his day to day life, his support network, and his stance.

[…] Ici dans la roya chaque noir et arrêté, contrôlé, tutoyé.
Les ombres sont devenus des choses, des choses à évacuer.
Ici le droit ne s’applique pas aux ombres.

Par contre, le droit incrimine les résistants, oui je dis résistants, car nous résistons tant bien que mal à la pression policière, aux gardes à vues, aux procès et aux médisances et insultes de certains élus et hauts fonctionnaires.
Depuis deux ans nous sommes victimes et témoins d’une violence d’état. […]


[…] Here, in the Roya Valley, every black person is stopped, checked, spoken to in an over-familiar manner.
Shadows have become things, things to be disposed of.
Here, the law does not apply to shadows.

On the other hand, the law incriminates resistance fighters – yes, I said resistance fighters – because we are, to the best of our ability, resisting police pressure, detentions, trials, as well as slander and insults from certain councillors and senior officials. For two years we have been victims and witnesses of state violence.

Vallée de la Roya

The Roya Valley, by Fulvio Spada on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Cédric Herrou is not the only one in Roya taking action. A trial report recounts the actions of 19-year-old Raphaël Faye:

…a pris des SDF Noirs en auto-stop sans leur avoir au préalable demandé leurs papiers. Pour ceci il risque, comme beaucoup d’autres, jusqu’à cinq ans de prison et 30.000 euros d’amende, en vertu de l’article L622-1, qui met en garde « toute personne qui aura, par aide directe ou indirecte, facilité ou tenté de faciliter l'entrée, la circulation ou le séjour irréguliers, d'un étranger en France ».

… picked up some homeless black hitchhikers without having first asked to see their ID documents. Like many others, he risks up to five years in prison and a 30,000 Euro fine in accordance with article L622-1, which cautions ‘any person who, directly or indirectly, facilitates or attempts to facilitate the entrance, travel or illegal stay of a foreign national in France‘.

Residents of the Valley have set up the organisation Roya citoyenne [Roya Community]. The organisation was initially set up to promote social connection in the region but it has now switched its focus on defending human rights.

In the Briançon area, at the Col de l’Échelle mountain pass which connects France and Italy, local volunteers from the organisation Tous Migrants [All Migrants] take to the streets at night to provide support to migrants that are ill-equipped for the cold weather. These migrants attempt to cross the mountain on foot to avoid the police patrols that will track and escort them back across the nearby border. It is thought that around 40 of these volunteers have already been brought in by the police.

Pour l’heure, aucun décès n’a été constaté sur place, « un petit miracle ». Mais ce sont plus de 300 personnes qui ont été évacuées vers les urgences de l’hôpital à leur arrivée à Briançon, selon les chiffres communiqués par Tous Migrants. Deux personnes ont du être amputées l’année dernière, victimes d’hypothermie, tandis que deux autres ont été grièvement blessés suite à une chute dans le ravin en tentant d’échapper à un contrôle policier, en août 2017.

At present, we have not recorded any deaths, which is a small miracle. However more than 300 people have required urgent hospital treatment following their arrival in Briançon, according to figures from Tous Migrants. Two people sustained amputations last year due to hypothermia, whereas two others were seriously injured after falling down a ravine while evading a police check in August 2017.

In Nice, Martine Landry, an activist from Amnesty International, will be tried on the 14 February:

pour « avoir facilité l’entrée de deux mineurs étrangers en situation irrégulière […], en ayant pris en charge et convoyé pédestrement ces deux mineurs du poste frontière côté Italie [Vintimille] au poste frontière côté France [Menton] ».

for ‘having assisted two underage, illegal migrants to enter the country […] by escorting them, on foot, from the border checkpoint on the Italian side in Vintimille across to the French checkpoint in Menton’.

Finally, we should mention the engagement of Houssam El-Assimi (profile from the Le Monde website) and his subsequent series of trials :

Pilier du collectif de soutien “La Chapelle Debout” […] Houssam El-Assimi, lui, a développé un engagement multiforme : il traduit de l’arabe au français pour les demandes d’asile, rend des visites dans les centres de rétention, constitue des dossiers pour éviter les renvois vers les pays en guerre, etc.[…] Cette fois, il comparaît pour « violences volontaires sur personne dépositaire de l’autorité publique, rébellion, à Paris, le 30 septembre 2016 »…Ce jour-là, alors que les policiers opèrent un contrôle d’identité de migrants, le militant court d’un groupe à l’autre leur conseillant de s’enfuir. Après, les versions diffèrent. Houssam El-Assimi est accusé d’avoir été violent envers un policier. Lui nie. « C’est moi qui ai eu trois jours d’ITT [incapacité temporaire de travail] et me retrouve accusé de violence et de rébellion », déplore-t-il.

As the backbone of the support group ‘La Chapelle Debout’ […], Houssam El-Assimi's engagement is multifaceted: he translates asylum applications from Arabic into French, makes visits to detention centres, compiles dossiers to avoid returning people to war-torn countries, etc. […] This time, he is appearing in court for ‘voluntary violence against a public order enforcement officer and rebellion in Paris on 30 September 2016'… On that day, during identity checks on migrants by police officers, the activist ran from group to group, advising them to flee. After this, the versions of events differ. Houssam El-Assimi is accused of being violent towards a police officer. He denies this. ‘I am the one who was off work sick for three days and yet I am accused of violence and rebellion’, he states.

Indignation is spilling over into social media

The Twitter account Délit de Solidarité [Crimes of Solidarity] (@Del_solidaires) was created in February 2017 to detail these cases. Searches for ‘délit de solidarité’ on Twitter bring up a plethora of reactions:

So, @EmmanuelMacron, it's a bit lousy to issue injunctions to French citizens who are wondering what they can do for France, and then to attack them through the courts because they are upholding France's honour. .#migrants #DelitDeSolidarite https://t.co/wRpiSxHJ3y

— PCatalan (@PierreC) 8 January 2018

From the satirical quarterly magazine Fakir:

‘Crimes of solidarity’, a delicious oxymoron.
One gets the impression they did not dare write ‘crimes of humanity’. https://t.co/cVnvjn8CO1

— Fakir magazine (@Fakir_) 8 January 2018

From charitable institutions: Vincent De Coninck, from Secours Catholique [Catholic Relief Service] in Calais :

Some front pages say as much as the article itself. pic.twitter.com/f6KccV67ns

— De Coninck (@VDeConinckSCCF) 11 January 2018

Economist Maxime Combes highlights the inconsistency between Emmanuel Macron's words and actions:

Make Our Blathering Great Again, episode 2953a

In @EmmanuelMacron‘s world, it seems that:
✅ minors are abandoned in the mountains at the Col de l'Échelle
✅ minors are locked up in detention centres
✅ migrants are tear gassed and deprived of water
✅ tents are slashed
✅ volunteers are taken to court for crimes of solidarity pic.twitter.com/THlUZ68v2G

— Maxime Combes (@MaximCombes) 11 January 2018

From the mayor of Grenoble, a town close to the Col de l'Échelle:

[rant] #Migrants are risking their lives between #France and #Italy! Mr President, @EmmanuelMacron stop being afraid: no wall will be tall enough to stop a man who wants to live. The century of migration has begun: we must make changes!  ➡️ https://t.co/XFFguQjBXdpic.twitter.com/KKZyl2Cp6d

— Éric Piolle (@EricPiolle) 11 January 2018

Some migrants who have been able to claim asylum have shared their stories on the site Réfugiés Bienvenue [welcome refugees]. Art classes have also been set up in Paris by the organisation Dessins sans Papiers [Undocumented Drawings], which enable attendees to share their journeys. The works are displayed in exhibitions or compiled in books.

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