Tonight Dateline is in Southern France to meet the French farmer rebelling against authorities, to help refugees find a better life in Europe.
French farmer, Cédric Herrou is standing trial for helping hundreds of migrants crossing the border from France to Italy illegally. As he faces possible incarceration for defying authorities, Dateline travels to the Roya Valley in southern France to ask what’s driving this ordinary olive farmer to risk everything to help these young immigrants.
“It’s not up to me to judge who’s black or white, legal or illegal. That’s not my job. I’m a farmer. My job is to feed people,” Cédric tells Dateline.
“These are people with desires, with pasts, with families waiting for them; people who are in love; parents who love their kids; kids who love their parents. Some kids cry for parents who are still in Italy or dead. They’re people with emotions, desires and hopes for the future.”
Last year alone, 181,000* refugees arrived in Italy on their way to other parts of Europe. With migrant camps overflowing and borders closed, many try to find alternative routes – routes that traverse mountains that are often deadly. Without the help of locals like Cédric some wouldn’t survive.
“The Eritreans came here fleeing dictatorship, the Sudanese came here fleeing war I wanted to take them to my home and help them,” said Cédric.
“At one point, I had about 60 people at my place. We were worried we couldn’t cope.”
Cédric’s farm has become a haven for refugees daring to sneak across the Italian-French border. It’s made him a hero to some and a criminal to others.
“The public prosecutor described my actions as humanitarian and important, so I continued doing it with better resources.”
But this is the third time Cédric’s been arrested and this time he may be jailed.
In fact, an unexpected humanitarian movement has sprung up in the Roya Valley with Cédric and 10 others facing charges for providing sanctuary to illegal migrants, many of them unaccompanied minors.
As anti-immigration sentiment rises, Cédric’s trial has attracted global attention. His efforts and those of other immigration activists have been described as the “French Underground Railroad”.
In France, passions are running hot – Cédric’s case has attracted enormous sympathy from some sections of the French public, but the stakes are high for this olive farmer with a big heart. Will he be jailed for doing what he thinks is right? Is he a hero or a people smuggler?
Tuesday 25 July at 9.30pm on SBS.