French woman on trial for helping migrant lover

FRENCH PRESS AGENCY - AFP
LILLE
Published 27.06.2017 23:08

A former supporter of France's anti-immigration National Front (FN) put on trial for helping her Iranian migrant lover smuggle across the Channel to Britain. Beatrice Huret faces possible jail time if convicted of helping Mokhtar -- whom she met while volunteering at the since-demolished "Jungle" migrant camp in Calais -- slip out of France under cover of night, on a rickety boat.

The 45-year-old is one of several people around France who have been charged with illegally assisting migrants in recent months. While none have been imprisoned, a farmer was recently hit with a 3,000-euro ($3,300) fine.

Huret's lawyer told AFP she would ask the court in the coastal town of Boulogne-sur-Mer to dismiss the case, insisting her client acted for "humanitarian reasons." She will be tried alongside three others accused of being part of a smuggling network, some of whose members allegedly acted for financial gain.

Huret's journey from FN sympathizer to alleged people smuggler began on a cold day in February 2015 when she gave a lift to a young Sudanese migrant travelling to the squalid Jungle. Before that, she had lived "a basic life" and voted FN like her husband, a border police officer who died of cancer in 2010.

Seeing the conditions in the Jungle gave her a new perspective on the plight of the thousands of migrants who flocked to Calais over the past decade in the hope of stowing away on a lorry bound for Britain.

"It was a shock to see all these people wading around in the mud," said Huret, a dark-haired woman with kohl-rimmed eyes, told AFP in an interview earlier this month.

She began volunteering at the camp soon afterwards and a year later met 37-year-old Mokhtar, who was among a group of Iranians who sewed their mouths shut in protest over the demolition of the southern half of the makeshift camp in March 2016.

She is one of several people to appear in court in recent months charged with illegally assisting migrants who have travelled up through Europe after crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy boats or stowing away in trucks travelling overland from Turkey. Since demolishing the Jungle camp in October French authorities have taken a stern line on illegal migration, accusing activists who provide assistance to homeless foreigners of creating a "pull" effect.

In February, a 37-year-old olive farmer in southern France was put on trial for helping African migrants cross the border from Italy and giving them accommodation. Cedric Herrou was let off with a suspended fine of 3,000 euros ($3,300) but was re-arrested last week for continuing to assist migrants seeking shelter.

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