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Farmer fined for helping migrants illegally enter France

A French farmer has been convicted for helping migrants cross the Italian border into France. Cedric Herrou is one of several people who have recently faced criminal charges for challenging France’s border control.

Frankreich Nizza Prozess gegen Cedric Herrou (picture-alliance/Cyril Dodergn)

Cedric Herrou has vowed to continue helping Africans slip into France from Italy.

A French court handed Cedric Herrou a 3,000-euro ($3,192) suspended fine on Friday for helping migrants from Africa enter, travel through and stay in France.

The verdict comes less than three months ahead of the first round of France's presidential elections. Immigration has become a contentious political issue in the country, whose current Socialist government has been criticized for allowing the "Jungle" migrant camp to develop near the northern port city of Calais. Authorities closed the site last October.

The farmer turned activist has become a household name in France for driving migrants across the Italian-French border, under the noses of the French police and then giving them shelter.

Herrou, from the Roya valley region on the border between the two countries, first appeared in a Nice court in January. He was initially facing an eight-month suspended prison term for sheltering 50 Eritreans in an empty holiday village.

While he has been praised as a hero by some, others worried by the uptick in refugee arrivals from the Middle East and Africa have criticized his actions.

The 37-year-old, however, was defiant before hearing the verdict, vowing to continue helping people who had fled to Europe. Herrou called his actions an act of humanity and his civic duty.

"We will continue to act despite the threats from the state and the prosecutor," he told Europe 1 radio.

On Friday, Herrou still had teenagers from Sudan and Eritrea staying in caravans on his farm.

The controversy is the latest in a series of cases highlighting those who have opposed France's anti-migrant sentiment by offering transport, food, lodging to people fleeing war or poverty.

In early December an appeals court in Aix-en-Provence upheld a 1,500-euro ($1,580) fine against a 73-year-old retired professor for helping two Eritreans avoid a police check.

On January 7, a French court acquitted a man for guiding Eritrean migrants across the border from Italy into France. The judge ruled that Pierre-Alain Mannoni, a researcher at French national research centre CNRS, had helped the three young Eritrean women to "protect their dignity".

mcm/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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