Activists Face Up to 10 Years in Prison for Helping Migrants Cross Border

Seven individuals are facing potential incarceration for helping migrants in danger in Briançon in the French Alps. Bastien, Benoit, Eléonora, Juan, Lisa, Mathieu and Théo risk up to 10 years in prison.

Seven individuals are risking imprisonment for having helped migrants in danger cross the French-Italian border. Three of them were arrested on 22 April following a march of solidarity denouncing the racist and dangerous provocations of the right-wing group Génération Identitaire (GI), which had been blocking the Col de l'Échelle in Briançon, in the context of an increasing militarisation of the French-Italian border.

Prosecutions a tool to intimidate

Following their arrest, the three activists were taken in custody for 11 days, then under house arrest for more than 25 days before being released awaiting the decision of the Constitutional Council on the offense of solidarity. On July 6th, the Council decided that solidarity should be reduced to provide humanitarian assistance only on the French side of the border. Following this decision, 4 other persons were placed in custody for the same reasons.

Bastien, Benoit, Eléonora, Juan, Lisa, Mathieu and Théo will face justice on 8 November in Gap, a commune in southeastern France. They are being prosecuted for "helping undocumented foreign nationals to enter national territory, in organized gang” and risk up to 10 years in prison and a 750,000 euro fine.

These sentences are normally reserved for organized crime. Human rights organizations are calling it a tool that is misused to intimidate citizens who show solidarity with migrants trying to cross the French Alps. They say that the prosecutor’s office has chosen to prosecute peaceful activists while enabling GI to evade any kind of punishment.

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GI members consider themselves “identity activist” and have been patrolling the border in search for migrants under the banner “Defend Europe”. GI’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts have been suspended.

A petition has been initiated by several French organizations calling for the release of Bastien, Benoit, Eléonora, Juan, Lisa, Mathieu and Théo as well as the end of the fierce law enforcement and all legal proceedings against those who help migrants and the immediate cessation of police violence against those exiled at the border and the respect of their rights.

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Meanwhile, Médecins Sans Frontières have met with local associations in Briançon, who have been warning for several months that the rights of migrants are systematically violated: refoulement of exiled persons including minors, discriminatory controls, chases in the mountains, impediments to the registration of asylum applications, lack of interpreters and threatening and insulting remarks about migrants.