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This Farmer, Convicted for Helping Refugees Enter France, Has ‘No Regrets’

Flickr/Rasande Tyskar

French farmer Cedric Herrou has been given a four-month suspended jail sentence today for helping refugees enter France illegally.

Herrou made headlines earlier this year when he was found to be helping refugees enter France illegally, slipping them past police after crossing the border from Italy. He then housed dozens of migrants in caravans on his farm in the Rosa valley, in south-east France, where he is part of a network of activists. 

He also helped them travel in France, using his own vehicle, reported Al Jazeera.

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Herrou been handed a suspended 3,000 euro fine in February, but prosecutors argued that was too lenient, leading to the appeal which concluded today with his jail sentence.

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The 37-year-old farmer has been unapologetic throughout the trial, telling reporters outside the southern French court today that he has “no regrets.” 

“It’s the role of a citizen in a democracy to act when the state is failing,” Herrou said, outside the appeal court in Aix-en-Provence, near Marseille.

“I’d like the judiciary to recognise what’s happening on the ground in the Rosa valley, recognise these asylum seekers. What am I to do, really? Kick these people out?”

Herrou has come to symbolise the ordinary Europeans trying to help migrants, refugees and asylum seekers fleeing poverty or war in the Middle East and Africa.

Herrou has come to the aid of an estimated 200 people in the past year, according to the BBC , mostly teenagers from Eritrea and Sudan.

At an earlier trial in January, he said: “I picked up kids who tried to cross the border 12 times. There were four deaths on the highway. My inaction and my silence would make me an accomplice. I do not want to be an accomplice.” 

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Herrou’s case caused debate, with some condemning him while others liken his efforts to those of the French people who helped hide Jews during World War II. 

Following his conviction today, his supporters have been criticising France for convicting someone for “being human.”

“In fact, Cedric Herrou is condemned just for being human. So we’re here in 2017?” wrote one supporter on Twitter. 

Another added: “How do I explain to my students that the France of 2017 condemns someone who helps people who come to us to survive?” 

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A French law provides legal immunity to people helping migrants with “humanitarian and disinterested actions,” but the prosecution argued Herrou had been subverting the law. 

Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron described a plan to set up “hotspots” in Libya where asylum seekers could be processed. 

The idea is to stop asylum seekers “taking crazy risks” by crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe, when they would not be eligible for asylum anyway.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR says nearly 118,000 people have reached southern Europe by sea so far this year, more than 96,500 of whom came ashore in Italy. 

More than 10,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats since 2014, according to the Guardian .