There were demonstration in 80 French towns yesterday to oppose the 'delit de solidarité' laws which means that anyone who provides ‘help’ to undocumented migrants can be prosecuted. The demonstrations were called by a coalition of associations including Emmaüs, La Cimade, Secours Catholique and France Terre d’Asile
As well as fixing the shameful target of 27,000 deportations for 2009, the French government has also fixed targets or quotas of 5,000 arrests of people who ‘help’ undocumented migrants.
Currently the law prescribes a punishment of five years in prison and €30,000 for “anyone who, by direct or indirect help, facilitates or tries to facilitate the entry, the circulation or the unlawful residence of a foreigner in France.” This law is particularly relevant to those who help migrants in and around Calais.
While the French government has denied that anyone has been prosecuted for the ‘delit de solidarité' and claim that these laws are aimed at ‘passeurs’ (people smugglers). Yet there is a deliberate obscurity in the law that allows many people who have shown solidarity for sans papiers to be arrested and accused of the ‘delit’ (a 'middle level' crime in France) of helping people in an irregular situation.
Some French people, especially in Calais, have been fined for helping migrants, providing them with a roof or for trying to defend migrants against Police harrassment and violence. The recent Marie-Noëlle Guès, Monique Pouille and Jean-Claude Lenoir cases are prime examples, where there simple act of being present at police actions led to charges of ‘outrage’ (disrespect) against Police officers.
There have also been attempts by the police to suggest to the press that some of those arrested in Calais have been involved in people smuggling and so to criminalize the local people attempts to support migrants.
The Police now do not hesitate to enter peoples homes to search for undocumented migrants and the practice is becoming more widespread. In Marseille last month police raided a charity for homeless people looking for undocumented migrants and arrested the manager.
The demonstrations come on top of a call to abolish the 'délit de solidarité' proposed by the Socialists, which will be debated at the National Assembly at the end of the month.