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Reuters/Yannis Behrakis
Is it safe to help?
BREAKING THE RULES

An act of kindness or human trafficking? A Danish woman is on trial for giving a ride to refugees

By Aamna Mohdin

Hundreds of refugees who made it into Europe trekked from Germany towards Sweden last year—a distance of some 800 kilometers (500 miles).

As they were travelling through Denmark by foot to seek ayslum, Lisbeth Zornig saw families with young children carrying their entire belongings as they trekked on a busy highway. She decided to help out one family and drove them to her home in Copenhagen instead.

She now faces a human-trafficking trial for her act of generosity.

Denmark’s Aliens Act makes it illegal for people to transport those without residence permits. As a result, a number of people were fined for transporting refugees at the height of the refugee crisis last year. In January, one man was fined 5,000 Danish krone ($739) for driving an Afghan family from the German border, while a 70-year-old pensioner was fined for a similar offence this week.

“I simply could not go home with the car empty,” Zornig told The Guardian. “I did not think it was forbidden to take hitchhikers.” She is pleading not guilty at her trial, which begins today (March 11). Her husband is also accused of driving the asylum-seekers to the rail station and buying them tickets to Sweden.

In another similar case, a British ex-soldier—Rob Lawrie—was accused of smuggling a four-year-old Afghan girl from the Calais refugee camp to the UK and was tried in France. “She is a child. She’s four years old. She has family who live near me and I had bonded with her,” he told the French court.

He was eventually cleared of the charges—but found guilty of the lesser offense of endangering a child. Lawrie described his actions as “irrational and stupid,” but vowed to keep fighting for refugees.

Human-rights campaigners have slammed governments for not doing enough to help refugees—arguing that volunteers have been forced to plug glaring gaps in Europe’s response to the refugee crisis. Campaigners have also complained about a growing crackdown against volunteers in Greek island of Lesbos, the main entry point for tens of thousands of refugees seeking a new life in Europe.

In January, Greek police reportedly arrested two Danish and three Spanish volunteers working with an aid group and accused them of people smuggling.