The French Alps | Photo: Picture alliance / Arco Images GmbH / Fischer
The French Alps | Photo: Picture alliance / Arco Images GmbH / Fischer

Amnesty International has been conducting a campaign after the conviction of a French mountain guide for “facilitating irregular entry [of migrants]” in the Alps between France and Italy. Following an appeal, Pierre Mumber, the mountain guide was acquitted of the charges on November 21.

“We are delighted that Pierre Mumber has been acquitted today – this is a victory for common sense, and for a good man who did absolutely nothing wrong,” said Rym Khadhraoui a research fellow at Amnesty International.

The mountain guide and manager of a mountain gite, Pierre Mumber, had originally been handed a three-month suspended sentence, convicted of facilitating illegal entry for migrants. This has now been overturned on appeal.

Walking the border

Mumber is one of a number of volunteers calling themselves “marauders,” essentially they participate in operations which roam the French-Italian border intending to help those in need. The incident which ended up in court took place in January 2019. Mumber and two other marauders were being filmed by an Italian team when they came across a group of four migrants. “One of them, a seriously injured Nigerian woman,” reports Euronews.

Soon after, explains Euronews a police patrol arrived and took the migrants to their cars. In court, the police officers claimed that Mumber had subsequently opened the cars to let the migrants out. A charge he denies. He says he only offered the migrants hot tea and warm clothes and has the evidence on the Italian film.

Proof of innocence

At the appeal, Mumber told Euronews “I had proof of my innocence, but if I did not have that proof, I do not know where I would be today.” He claims that he was “convicted on the basis of false police statements. The police told a story that is not mine, they blamed me for things that I did not do,” Euronews reported.

Mumber and his team call his case a “crime of solidarity.” Mumber is one of several people who have been convicted in the last couple of years in France of helping migrants in various ways. The convictions, reports Euronews were based on a French law dating from 1945. A spokesperson for a French non-governmental organization Tous Migrants told Euronews that “around 20 volunteers had been prosecuted [for so-called crimes of solidarity] since 2017 – and the vast majority convicted.”

Crime of solidarity

In October the online magazine Alpine Mag featured Mumber’s case as he waited for an appeal hearing. Mumber’s lawyer, Philippe Chaudon, wrote Ulysse Lefebvre in Alpine Mag, had the task of “proving the legality of the principle of solidarity.” Mumber was first convicted by a tribunal in the town of Gap and then took his case to the court of appeal in Grenoble in the French Alps.

Mumber’s team hoped that the appeal would pivot around the projection of the 19 minute video shot by the Italian camera team. Because the video, writes Ulysse Lefebvre in Alpine Mag, showed Mumber translating between the police and the Italian camera team several meters away from the police car.

However, the judge reportedly initially dismissed the film’s evidence and the testimony of the Italian camera team as well as the other two guides who all spoke in favor of Mumber, saying that the film was “missing some scenes” (because it didn’t show who did open the door of the police car) and was “not important.”Border between the town of Ventimiglia in Italy and Menton in France

Dying at the border

Mumber wrote Alpine Mag “upholds the morals of those who work in the uplands –never leave anyone in distress in the mountains.” Mumber reportedly told Euronews “It’s hard for me to accept that 20-year-old guys die at our doorstep simply because they are trying to get into our country. It’s impossible to accept.” He added that four or five people had already died at the border after getting lost.

Volunteers like him across Europe have found themselves in similar situations after "refusing to accept" events that were unfolding on their doorsteps. In May 2019 the organization Open Democracy “worked with journalists across Europe” to compile a list of “more than 250 people across 14 countries who have been arrested, charged or investigated under a range of laws over the last five years for supporting migrants.” 

Most of the cases, they added “occurred in just seven countries, Italy, Greece, France, the UK, Germany, Denmark and Spain.” They believe the full figures “are likely much higher.” Open Democracy say there has been “a sharp increase” in these types of incidents since the beginning of 2018.Migrants walking along the Roja river near Ventimiglia in north-west Italy towards the French border  Photo ANSACHIARA CARENINI

‘Criminalized for kindness’

Open Democracy called their list “criminalized for kindness” and said that the individuals involved in such cases included “religious leaders…first responders…retired lecturers…pensioners, …several journalists, authors …and even local politicians.” Not all of them have ended up with legal convictions. Sometimes volunteers are just harassed or fined for other reasons “to deter them,” Agnés Antoine an activist and member of the French NGO “Tous Migrants” told Open Democracy.

Khadhraoui from Amnesty concluded: “Pierre is unfortunately one of many people facing harassment, intimidation and attacks at the hands of authorities for supporting migrants and refugees. However, it is heartening to see the courts are calling out this misapplication of the law. We hope that after this decision others criminalized for acts of solidarity at the French-Italian border will be celebrated instead of punished.”

Mumber himself told Euronews he had “mixed feelings,” following the ruling. “I am satisfied that there is a bare minimum of justice in France;” however he added that he was “a bit bitter to see that one can end up in court simply because people who are police officers make false statements.” He said he would continue “providing support to those in exile in France in the future.”

 

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