France: heroes and immigrants

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A World to Win News Service for 2 June 2018 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.

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France: heroes and immigrants

2 June 2018. A World to Win News Service. France enjoyed a feel-good moment when President Emannuel Macron held a much-publicized meeting with Mamoudou Gassama and promised citizenship to the young Malian living and working in Paris without papers. A video viewed by millions had shown him climbing up the outside of an apartment building to rescue a toddler dangling by one hand from a high balcony.

Gassama certainly deserved praise and more for his heroism, but Macron acted out of cynical calculation. The dignified treatment, for once, awarded to a migrant was meant to cast a humane light on a politician who is currently ramming legislation through parliament to make it easier to massively expel other immigrants. Many, like Gassama, are from France’s former colonies still under its domination, and, like Gassama, crossed deserts and seas to escape the results of how French looting and control shaped their country. As another politician proclaimed, making an exception for one African gives France the moral authority to deport hundreds of thousands. Even as the French media indulged in an orgy of self-congratulation, the police were once again destroying a migrant camp on the edges of Paris that was home to people like Gassama.

Also at about the same time, French courts moved to severely punish people for saving immigrants whose lives were in danger. Three young people from France, Italy and Switzerland were jailed for ten days and are now being subjected to long-term draconian restrictions on their lives and movement as they await trial. They are accused of taking part in a march of about 160 people that accompanied and protected African immigrants as they walked through the Alps from Italy into France. Such crossings have become increasingly dangerous since police totally blocked the more easily travelled roads and valleys between the two countries. Two immigrants were found dead in these forests in May. Vigilante actions in the area by fascist groups from all over Europe have made the situation even more perilous.

A local 73-year old policeman’s widow who has become an immigration activist since her retirement is now on trial for walking into France with two young teenagers from Guinea. According to Amnesty International, the two had been illegally seized by police in France and taken to Italy, even though as minors travelling alone claiming refugee status, and recognized as such by an official French agency, they were supposedly under French government protection. Then Italian police refused to allow them to leave the border area, leaving them stranded in limbo. The woman met the two at a French border sign and walked with them to a French police post to demand that their rights be respected – for which she was arrested.

All four of these arrested Europeans face ten years in prison and huge fines because they are accused of having acted “in an organized band”.. (In the case of the widow, the criminal “organized band” is Amnesty International.)

Once, not so many years ago, France bragged about being “a land of refuge”. An outcry from people who still held onto that idea forced a previous government to retreat from totally criminalizing what’s called “the crime of solidarity”, an ironic reference to the government’s reversal of the “duty of solidarity” in French law under which it is illegal to fail to help anyone in danger. Until now, French governments have claimed to distinguish between humanitarian acts by individual citizens and organized “human trafficking” for profit. The Macron government is acting to remove this distinction in law, as it already has in practice. Italy has been doing the same, threatening maximum criminal charges against NGO ship crews who rescue immigrants in danger of drowning.

By chance, the child Mamoudou Gassama saved from death was not an undocumented immigrant. Otherwise, Gassama could even face prison for “the crime of solidarity” himself. In any case, he was all the more courageous not only because he risked a mortal or crippling fall, but also because he had no reason to believe that his reward for coming out of the shadows would be anything but a police beating, handcuffs and deportation.

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