Cédric Herrou at his farm in Breil sur Roya. Photo: Mehdi Chebil
Cédric Herrou at his farm in Breil sur Roya. Photo: Mehdi Chebil

Cédric Herrou, the French farmer who shot to fame after defying authorities to help dozens of migrants enter the country illegally, has launched France's first Emmaus-backed farming community at his southern Roya valley property. The project will allow for refugees and homeless people, who are otherwise excluded from the labor market, to work on the farm in exchange for a small stipend.

On July 4, the Roya Valley farmer and pro-migrant activist Cédric Herrou announced the creation of France's first farming community operating under the international solidarity movement Emmaus. The community, named "Emmaus Roya," currently has seven members: Two Frenchmen, of which one is homeless, and refugees and asylum seekers from Iran, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Senegal and Guinea. The aim of the project is to aid people who are otherwise prevented to work because of their immigration status.

"We've been trying to find activities for the people staying at the house for a long time," Cédric Herrou told InfoMigrants in an interview. "I didn't dare to let them work on my farm for fear that I would be accused of using undeclared labor. And then I discovered that Emmaus could set up communities thanks to its OACAS status." (This is a legal status in France, which allows for the establishment of self-sufficient communities, and whose members receive a monthly stipend.)

All community members are housed and fed, and can launder their clothes at Cédric Herrou's farm at Breil-sur-Roya, located in the Alpes-Maritime region near the Italian border. They also receive a monthly sum for their community membership.

"Thanks to the OACAS status, the members of the self-sufficient community get a stipend and have their social costs paid for," an overjoyed Cédric Herrou explained.

'Can stay for as long as they like'

At Emmaus Roya, each community member will receive a stipend of €350 a month, "the average sum of what Emmaus communities make." 

The project has received funding from the foundation Lilian Thuram, the BioCoop cooperative, the association Nature et Progrès, organic products company Léa Nature as well as the Insolite bâtisseur foundation which is run by the photographer Yann-Arthus Bertrand and French filmmaker Louis-Julien Petit. 

"There is no limit to the length of their stays. Everyone can stay for as long as they like," Cédric Herrou said.

The olive-grove farmer said that presently he can host up to eight people within the framework of the project, since every community member needs to be housed individually. So far, five huts and three caravans have been installed on his property.

And there is definitely work to be done on the farm. Aside from the 800 olive trees that cover an area of at least 5 hectares, Cédric Herrou also has a vegetable plot that stretches out over half a hectare, and a chicken coop.

"This new activity will allow me to refocus on my job: farming," he said, noting that the community members all have very diverse professional backgrounds.

A drop in migrant numbers in the Roya valley

Cédric Herrou, who in March 2017 was handed a suspended €3,000 fine by a Nice court for helping migrants into France, said he continues to open up his home to migrants. Lately, however, he said that the number of migrants passing through the region via Italy has dropped significantly. Cédric Herrou partly attributed this decrease to it having become more difficult for migrants to make their way through Libya. Since the start of the year, Herrou said he had housed just 49 migrants, compared with 319 in 2018 and 1,325 in 2017.

In July last year, France’s Constitutional Court overturned Cédric Herrou’s conviction, ruling that the farmer had acted on the "principle of fraternity" when helping migrants into France. His case is not yet over, however, as he is set to appear before a Lyon appeals court for a retrial. The date for that trial has yet to be set, however.


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