Every day, migrants cross the border from Italy to France. Minors and asylum seekers have the right to be supported. But the fact is that they are instead regularly taken back to Italy for breaking French law.
But resistance has been on the rise. In the Roya valley, a French enclave surrounded by Italy, the farmer Cédric Herrou started to offer migrants a place to rest, as well as food and protection. He also offered them long-term assistance, such as helping them with filling out their asylum request – all this in the name of human rights. Helping people in distress seems to him as the most fundamental human act, but today his gestures have become criminal acts – even if he is able to quote written French law.
But Herrou is not the only one trying to help out. Other farmers have opened their doors and lands to these foreigners, confronting the political apathy that has transformed injustice into normality. The renaissance of possibly the most important invention in French political history was repressed – the Citoyennité – the concept of a self-confident, informed citizen, who actively takes part in defending the rights of others, especially those who have been disenfranchised.
To protect asylum seekers, small children, youngsters without parents, and invalids, are evident duties. The usual transfer back to Italy would only have reinforced their fragility and provoked further risks. To recognise a problem and to act, not to wait for state assistance or reaction, is the – potentially anarchic – mainspring of the citoyen: to provoke not illegality, but autarchy. It is a positive form of disobedience, necessary when rights get violated – a self-responsibility referring to the principal virtues of the French revolution: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.
Convicted by the court, supported by the public
Herrou was tried and sentenced by the courts, a risk which did not frighten him. Meanwhile, his actions made their way into the media. He was not without support. In Libre (Free))/To the Four Winds, the documentary filmmaker Michel Toesca follows Herrou in his everyday life for three years, which did not leave him much time for farming. The pressure of events needed no script.
We see Herrou in a TV discussion with Prime Minister …
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