One speaker at the event cautioned the criminalization of people assisting migrants signaled a descent into fascism. “The seeds of fascism are being sown … in France and in Europe. Seeds only grow when there is water and dirt.” He warned, “Fascism sets roots because of our silence and our inaction in the face of the gravity of the situation.” [Le fascsisme sème des graines … en France et en Europe. Les graines ça ne pousse que s’il y a de l’eau du terreau […] Le terreau du fascisme c’est notre silence, notre inaction face à la gravité de la situation.]
There was heavy police presence outside the Palais de Justice including dozens of national police officers. Some were armed with assault rifles, while others stood ready with riot gear alongside five police vans and a large police bus. In the background, the Conseil Général building appeared peppered with blue paint. Frequent demonstrations have been organized throughout the region in support of asylum seekers attempting to cross the border and in solidarity with those criminalized for supporting the passage of the migrants through dangerous mountain conditions.
Around 40 people were permitted into the Palais de Justice for the hearing where the Tribunel correctionnel de Gap decided to free the three prisoners – two Swiss and one Italian nationals – two of whom were recently transferred from Gap to the Baumettes prison in Marseille. They will appear before a judge on May 31 to face serious human smuggling-related charges – pour aide à l’entrée d’étrangers en situation irrégulière. Strict release conditions forbid the accused to use social media or return to their home country. They face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of 750,000 Euros (over $1.15 million CAD).
Various migrant support groups and anti-fascist activists were present at the demonstration. A variety of speakers discussed the situation in France under the reforms of President Emmanuel Macron and the militarization of borders attempting to stem the tide of asylum seekers. Various chants arose from the crowd, including, “libérez nos camarades,” “police partout, justice complice,” and “de l’air de l’air, coupez les frontières.”
Activists also circulated pamphlets and a petition. One pamphlet described how a tourist ski village at Montgenèvre had recently been turned into a military camp on the Franco-Italian border by the French military who patrolled the mountain trails at night hunting for migrants. The pamphlet further discussed the April 22 demonstration near Briançon, organized as a response to the militarization of the border and to the actions of Génération identitaire, described in the pamphlet as a neo-fascist group and in the media as a nascent European version of the American alt-right, who also sought to block asylum seekers from crossing the border.
Génération identitaire also made headlines last July as its members, as part of the “Defend Europe” movement, raised funds to procure a large boat – the C-Star – to prevent the arrival of European-bound migrant vessels and by disrupting NGO vessels saving migrants in the Mediterranean. The extreme-right group vows on its website to protect Europe from the invasion of Islam and illegal migration. The group’s website opens on a video announcing “mission Alpes” and shows dozens of young people donning blue ski jackets emblazoned with “Defend Europe” logos. Supported by a helicopter, the group is shown snowshoeing in the mountains and setting up a barrier. One of the media personalities of the movement is a Canadian, Lauren Southern, described by the UK’s Express as an alt-right political activist. Southern was on the first anti-migrant boat in May last year, a dinghy, which attempted to block an NGO vessel bringing migrants to shore in Italy. In preparation for the C-Star’s launch, Southern told Express the group “had enough military and sailors to have our own personal army.”
Back in Canada, extreme-right anti-migrant groups have also rallied in Quebec along the U.S. border. In September last year, the St-Bernard-de-Lacolle border crossing was temporarily shut down as anti-fascist and pro-migrant groups confronted a rally organized by the self-described “ultranationalist” Storm Alliance supported by La Meute. The CBC also reported that Storm Alliance members patrolled Roxham Road – a popular crossing point for migrants into Quebec – where RCMP officers routinely guard. Tens of thousands of migrants attempting to enter Canada from the United States have been arrested and detained.