Monday, February 13, 2017

A Humanitarian Conundrum

"I picked up kids who tried to cross the border twelve 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."
"Whatever happens, I'll continue."
Cedric Herrou, Breil-sur-Roya, France

"A handful of activists . . . blinded by a far-left ideology [has organized the] clandestine entry of foreigners across the French-Italian border."
"Who can say with certainty that of the hundreds of migrants that Mr. Herrou has proudly brought across the border there isn't hidden among them a future terrorist?"
Eric Ciotti, president, Alpes-Maritimes Department

"It's astonishing that humans smugglers continue to pass through -- the real smugglers who get rich on the backs of others while humanitarians are harassed in this way."
"The authorities can't control the borders so they're putting pressure on people in the valley to discourage them from supporting migrants, by detaining people and putting them on trial."
Me Zia Oloumi, lawyer defending Cedric Herrou
Authoritarianism in Eritrea and the Migrant Crisis
Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters

The influx of migrants from North Africa, along with refugees from Syria has engulfed Europe in a dreadful dilemma, a crisis of huge proportions for which no solution glimmers hopefully on the horizon. Already burdened with a surfeit of foreigners who have flooded into Europe, that flood has ebbed somewhat, but as soon as spring arrives, it will once again gather force, challenging Europe to meet yet another crisis of placement and absorption of hundreds of thousands of illegals.

A Europe struggling to accommodate the humanitarian needs of people fleeing conflict, and others searching for stability and economic and social promise denied them in their home lands, has been beset as never before with the threat of a forever-altered demographic whose presence will have a profound effect on their ethnic, religious and cultural traditions. The indigenous peoples of Europe are witnessing their heritage and their values dissolving in a sea of foreign values and cultures.

It is a call to act, but how to solve the dilemma? That, for example of Pierre-Alain Mannoni who finds himself facing charges akin to human trafficking because one evening driving along mountainous back country near Nice he encountered the presence of 50 people taking haven in an abandoned railway building. Stricken by their situation, he agreed to take several people for medical care to Nice.

"I hesitated because I was working the next day, but when I saw them, the answer was clear. Three Eritrean girls appeared. They were all badly injured, one wearing a cast, another could barely walk. They had come by foot. You could see they were cold, frightened and in pain. They needed help."  But on the way they were stopped and Mr. Mannono was arrested under an article of France's immigration law that anyone who "facilitates or attempts to facilitate the illegal entry, movement or residence of a foreigner in France shall be punished by imprisonment for five years and a fine of 30,000 Euros".
Mr. Mannano was caught in the "crime of solidarity" where people were prosecuted for supporting migrants and asylum seekers. Over 100 NGOs, charities and labour unions signed a manifesto for an end to the criminalization of what they describe as humanitarian activity. "What we're seeing is that all of the cases have one purpose, and that's to discourage any kind of support for the foreign population, be they migrants, Roma or asylum seekers", stated Claudia Charles, legal expert at rights group Gisti.

Mr. Mannoni, 45, an engineer and professor of geography, was acquitted at trial, due to a legal clause stipulating that financial benefit from the accused transaction must take place, and there was no financial benefit to Mr. Mannoni taking place in the situation where he was apprehended. But there is an appeal, and the prosecution is counting on a six-month prison term as punishment for the man's humanitarian response to a situation he could not abide.

Medecins sans Frontieres publicly denounced police violence against migrants facing harassment, early this month. Sleeping rough, the migrants complained of routine harassment as police dismantled their makeshift camps, confiscating their blankets, and leaving the migrants exposed to the cold. MSF has treated cases of hypothermia among migrants sleeping in the streets, and that was before the weather turned even colder.

In response, government and the city of Paris set up new reception centres, one for women and children, in Ivry-sur-Seine, south of Paris, as temporary havens. But shelter shortages are persistent, in Paris, in the south of France, and near Calais. This is a dilemma of huge proportions, with no relief in sight, and certain to accelerate as better weather encourages more migrants to try their luck at establishing themselves where they feel their future should lie.
Migrants watch smoke rising from fires in the "Jungle" migrant camp in Calais, northern France, during a massive operation to clear the squalid settlement
Migrants watch smoke rising from fires in the "Jungle" migrant camp in Calais, northern France, during a massive operation to clear the squalid settlement Credit:  PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

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