A new Manifesto has emerged in France demanding an end to the “solidarity offense” authorities have launched against people risking their lives to help fleeing refugees.
The document, released earlier this month, comes from an unnamed collective of 100 trade unions and national associations across France. In it, the group highlights the injustice that is being perpetrated against those “who are only helping people in very precarious situations, victims of dangerous, violent and even inhuman decisions.”
“With the introduction of a state of emergency, and in the context of the so-called ‘migratory crisis,’ there has been a resurgence of prosecutions aimed at preventing the expression of solidarity with migrants, refugees, Roma and undocumented migrants”, the statement reads.
And “it is the support for all foreigners which tends to become suspect.”
French authorities have already written to the Council of the EU to continue border controls with Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, the Swiss Confederation, Italy and Spain until July.
Therefore, the manifesto is simultaneously a call to action against France’s anti-immigration policies and its cracking down on dissidents, as well as a sign of solidarity with those being persecuted for the crime of helping.
One of the latest victims of this state repression is Cedric Herrou, a farmer and migrant rights activist currently facing up to five years in prison and a US$26,000 fine.
The charges – "helping undocumented foreigners enter, move about and reside" in France – stem from his decision back in October to occupy an abandoned, state-owned vacation retreat in order to shelter migrants fleeing Western-backed wars in North Africa and the Middle East.
He’s one of 13 people currently being persecuted in France for helping people cross the French-Italian border, which reportedly remains close.
"I did it because it had to be done,” he told a group of about 300 supporters outside the courthouse in the southern French city of Nice earlier this month.
“There are people who have died on the highway, there are families who are suffering. There is a state that has put in place borders and has absolutely no control over the consequences."
The group claims that “as early as 2009, associations for the defense of human rights and support for foreigners” have been engaging in direct actions and denouncing the sanctions rained upon the “helpers.”
Those mobilizations resulted in favorable though limited reforms such as a December 2012 one that helped expand the criteria for exemption from prosecution and assist in “ensuring dignified and decent living conditions abroad.”
“Despite this, people who have expressed their solidarity with foreigners without a residence permit continue to be treated as criminals,” the document concludes.
“More and more, the mere fact of having wanted to witness police operations, evictions of camps, raids, can lead to an arrest, under cover of rebellion or violence against an agent.”
Coordinators have already announced a day of action for February 9, a day before a decision comes in for Herrou’s case and two months ahead of April’s presidential elections. The two leading candidates – Marie Le Pen of the extreme-right National Front Party, and Francois Fillon of the far-right Republican Party – are both running on xenophobic anti-migrant platforms.
“We refuse that populations targeted by xenophobic practices and policies are stopped from having support,” the manifesto concludes. “The future of the very principle of solidarity is at stake.”
Groups wishing to sign the manifesto and join the collective can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.