Most of us have heard of Harriet Tubman. Soon to be the first woman on American paper currency, the former slave risked her life and her freedom by helping countless others escape from slavery through the Underground Railroad.
But have you ever heard of Cédric Herrou?
According to a New York Times article, the 37-year-old farmer is on a similar mission. Cédric has helped approximately 200 African migrants — many of which are women and children escaping Sudan and other war-torn countries — sneak over the Italian border into France to pursue a better life.
The NY Times has labeled Cédric’s effort as the « French Underground Railroad. » Basically, he and a network of other allies help smuggle migrants across the country, providing information on where police are and sometimes food and shelter. The point is to get the immigrants into France, and from there they can go where they choose — often England or Germany.
« We think we are doing what we should do, as citizens, » Françoise Cotta, another part of the smuggling network, told the Times. She is a well known Parisian lawyer who also spends some of her time in Breil-sur-Roya, the southern town where Cédric operates. « Down there I am a citizen, and what I do is illegal. And I help them. »
The mayor of Breil also knows about the network and has done nothing to stop it. Rather, he is sympathetic to the cause.
Although members of the smuggling system could be arrested — and Cédric was briefly in August before being let off without charges — many of them do it as a reaction to what they see as the inhumane treatment of immigrants. Cédric said that police regularly round up black migrants roughly and send them over the Italian border into giant refugee camps. Even paramedics turn black migrants into the police.
« They are rounding up blacks in the train stations, » Cédric said. « They are taking children, and they are sending them back… Either I close my eyes, or I don’t. These are people with no papers at all. That means they have no protection. I don’t see how we can be inert. »
In an American election that has turned very ugly against many immigrants, it is nice to see people putting themselves at risk to give others in need the chance at having a better life.