'Everyone can help' migrants, says Briton who risked jail


Paris (AFP)

Former British soldier Robert Lawrie, who risked jail for trying to smuggle a four-year-old Afghan girl out of a French migrant camp, said Monday everyone should seek to help refugees.

Lawrie last week escaped a potential jail term of up to five years and a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($33,000) after trying with her father's agreement to spirit Bahar Ahmadi out of the squalid camp near the northern port of Calais known as "The Jungle" and take her to relatives in England.

But in a case which has deeply divided public opinion, a court in nearby Boulogne-sur-Mer warned him he would have to pay 1,000 euros ($1,085) "for endangering life" if he re-offended.

At the time, Lawrie, 49, said he knew the plan was "irrational."

But on a visit to Paris he urged people to understand the desperation of migrants fleeing war and misery as they languish in a camp with some 4,000 inhabitants, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq but also Sudan and Eritrea.

"You can't help everyone. But everyone can help someone", said Lawrie, a father-of-four from northern England who has visited The Jungle several times to build shelters for the migrants.

"So they are my someone for now," he explained as he contributed to a huge fresco in Paris' Place de la Republique which graffiti artists have created in homage to the refugees.

"I am gonna fight for them -- but I am gonna do it legally. I have got meetings with human rights lawyers, to try, first of all, to get Bahar and her father to the UK legally," Lawrie said.

"When they are sorted and with their family, I'll find another someone to help.

"People call them immigrants, migrants -- even in law they are known as aliens."

But "they are not from Mars!! They are human beings," Lawrie said.

Aurore Cyrille, behind the fresco, said: "Rob Lawrie symbolises the solidarity towards migrants. He did something really great. Few people help refugees and why is that? It's because it's also illegal."