Pastor Norbert Valley. He was surprised to see police show up at a Sunday morning service at the evangelical church in Switzerland where he is pastor. He was even more perplexed when the officers told him he had broken the law by allowing a migrant who did not have the right to remain in the country to sleep there. Valley, 63, was given a suspended fine of 1,000 francs ($1,016) and ordered to pay 250 francs ($253) in legal fees. The pastor was told he would not have to pay the penalty if he stopped helping people in similar circumstances — a promise Valley said he could not make. Photo: Réseau évangélique suisse

By Saphora Smith
28 October 2018

(NBC News) – Norbert Valley was surprised to see police show up at a Sunday morning service at the evangelical church in Switzerland where he is pastor.

He was even more perplexed when the officers told him he had broken the law by allowing a migrant who did not have the right to remain in the country to sleep there.

Valley, 63, was given a suspended fine of 1,000 francs ($1,016) and ordered to pay 250 francs ($253) in legal fees. The pastor was told he would not have to pay the penalty if he stopped helping people in similar circumstances — a promise Valley said he could not make.

“If I find myself in the same situation, I cannot not help,” he said, explaining that it was his duty as a Christian to help those in distress. "If we don’t help our neighbors, we lose our humanity."

Valley is far from the only person whose moral compass has put them on the wrong side of the law amid Europe's migrant crisis.

Many know they are breaking the law. But some question whether being punished for what they see as acts of human solidarity is just.

Valley, who was fined in August, is appealing and preparing to fight his case in court.

His case comes as aid workers and volunteers across Europe allege that harassment from authorities has made it increasingly difficult to do their jobs.

Other recent incidents include:

  • Domenico Lucano, the mayor of the southern Italian town of Riace, was placed under house arrest this month on suspicion of facilitating illegal migration. He was accused of arranging “marriages of convenience” to allow migrants to remain in Italy, among other charges.
  • A Belgian journalist who works for Marie Claire magazine has been accused of human trafficking and of participation in a criminal organization. Anouk Van Gestel, 62, is one of 12 defendants who are due to appear in court next month. She admits that she tried to help a 16-year-old from Sudan travel from Belgium to Britain illegally, but insists it was for humanitarian reasons. “I didn’t receive one cent,” she said. Van Gestel said her case "has nothing to do with rights and justice — it is just political."
  • Cédric Herrou, an olive farmer from southeast France, was first detained in 2016 for helping eight people cross from Italy into the country. He has since aided hundreds more as they made similar journeys, including many unaccompanied children. Herrou has been detained nine more times for transporting migrants through France and housing them at a makeshift camp. Last year, he was given a four-month suspended sentence. In July, a court ruled that the "principle of fraternity" should have shielded Herrou, 39, from prosecution.

Domenico Lucano, the mayor of the southern Italian town of Riace, was placed under house arrest in October 2018 on suspicion of facilitating illegal migration. He was accused of arranging “marriages of convenience” to allow migrants to remain in Italy, among other charges. Photo: Franck Lovene

Judith Sunderland, the associate director for Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, said such good Samaritans and aid workers were "people who are doing for the most part really great work in keeping with the founding values" of the European Union.

“It’s devastating to see what feels more and more like a pattern of attacks on these groups and on individuals, and efforts to delegitimize what should be seen as very laudable work," she added, describing them as the "best of Europe." [more]

Good Samaritans who help migrants find themselves in court

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