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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

French olive farmer wins migrant court battle

Court reverses fine for Cedric Herrou who gave food and shelter to migrants crossing into France

Cedric Herrou, a French farmer, won his court case on Friday and reversed the fine imposed for helping illegal migrants cross the French-Italian border. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo
Cedric Herrou, a French farmer, won his court case on Friday and reversed the fine imposed for helping illegal migrants cross the French-Italian border. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

France's constitutional court ruled in favour of olive farmer Cedric Herrou on Friday after he was prosecuted for helping dozens of illegal migrants who had entered the country.

Herrou was fined 3,000 Euros in 2017 after providing assistance to migrants in the Roya Valley, located on the border between France and Italy.

However, the courts ruled in favour of Cedric's actions based on the 'principle of fraternity', one of the three values that make up Frances motto; Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Patrice Spinosi, Herrou's lawyer during the court case, told AFP: “The principle of fraternity has been recognised. If a helping hand is selflessly extended to a foreigner, it should not be punished.”

Herrou, like many other French citizens who live near the border, felt it was necessary to help the migrants regardless of the legal implications of their entry into France.

"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, and went so far as to state that France's parliament should adapt the law.

This decision has major implications for the future direction of European attitude towards migration law and policy.

In a statement, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the ruling was compatible with draft immigration and asylum legislation being debated in parliament.

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Over the last few years, Europe has adopted increasingly hostile immigration policies, taking a more protectionist stance of redirecting migrants towards camps and other EU nations.

French constitutional law 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.

The ruling could be a first of many legal decisions by high courts throughout Europe to reverse legal migration policy towards supporting rather than barring migrants and may lead to changes in Government policy.

However, the ruling has created divides between the left and right ideological movements in France, a country that has been plagued with a wave of nationalist, anti-foreign sentiment that was expressed through Marine Le Pen's popularity during the 2017 French election campaign.

“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," said Eric Ciotti and Guillaume Larrive in a statement after the court ruling, both members of 'The Republicans' centre-right political party.