Cédric Herrou, a 37-year-old olive farmer from southern France’s Roya Valley, found himself in court last month in Nice. He had helped illegal immigrants, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, along a dangerous road into France from Italy, and sheltered them on his property. That meant he could face five years in prison and a €30,000 fine.
The official charge was aide au séjour irrégulier: facilitation of illegal residence. The law against it is designed to deter citizens from helping those entering the country illegally. It has created a legal gray area between fulfilling one’s civic duty to help those in danger and breaking the law by aiding illegal refugees. People acting in this gray area are known as “solidarity delinquents.”
Herrou himself is no stranger to hard times. He’s been working this rocky patch of land since he was 16
The solidarity delinquent Herrou is no stranger to hard times. His olive crop failed last year; he earns money by selling eggs. He’s been working this rocky patch of land in the valley since he was 16. The area is dotted with abandoned footwear, blankets, and water bottles, marking the spots where refugees have spent the night during their search for a place to cross the border.
One night, in the beam from his headlights, Herrou saw a family crossing the road. He took him back to the farm and offered them shelter. Before long, his land was overrun by refugees from Italy. The first charge against him was dropped after Herrou argued he was doing his humanitarian duty. After he squatted a disused railway building to give refugees a place to stay, things changed. He was arrested and charged on the premise that he wasn’t providing individual aid but running an illegal refugee camp.
Today we bring you a short documentary about Herrou. The filmmakers, Christine Pawlata and Nicola Moruzzi, attended his trial in Nice, which drew great interest, and visited him at the farm to get his story. Their film is as direct as it is moving, and it’s a timely introduction to a man for whom helping his fellow humans is a natural act – albeit one opposed by the state.
—Translated from Dutch by Laura Martz and Erica Moore