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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Five migrants critical after being shot in Calais brawl

Clashes in the French port broke out between Afghans and Africans, local authorities said

A group of migrants carrying sticks during clashes near the ferry port in Calais, northern France on February 1. EPA/JOHAN BEN AZZOUZ
A group of migrants carrying sticks during clashes near the ferry port in Calais, northern France on February 1. EPA/JOHAN BEN AZZOUZ

Five migrants were in critical condition Thursday after being shot and 18 were injured in clashes in the northern French port of Calais between Afghans and Africans, local authorities said.

Four Eritreans aged between 16 and 18 were taken to hospital for surgery, local prosecutors said. Another wounded migrant was taken to the nearby city of Lille because of his “very serious state of health,” the local prefect’s office said.

A nearly two-hour fight broke out on the southern outskirts of Calais among about 100 Eritreans and some 30 Afghans who had been queueing for food handouts. It started when an Afghan fired shots.

A second fight then broke out at an industrial site around five kilometres away, with more than a hundred Eritreans armed with iron rods and sticks fighting about 20 Afghans, prosecutors said.

“Police intervened to protect the Afghan migrants faced with 150 to 200 Eritrean migrants,” the local prefecture said, adding that security reinforcements were being deployed in the area.

It was the worst violence in Calais since clashes in July 2017 left 16 people wounded. A year earlier in June, 40 people were injured in clashes in the northern port town which draws migrants trying to sneak across the Channel into Britain.

French interior minister Gerard Collomb tweeted he would be heading to the area by helicopter and could stay overnight.

“After today’s serious incidents I shall be heading for Calais tonight to take stock of the situation with the prefect, the mayor and local players,” including police, Mr Collomb said.

The notorious Jungle camp in Calais, once home to some 10,000 people hoping to make it to Britain, was demolished in 2016, but hundreds of migrants remain in the port city seeking to stow away on England-bound trucks.

A judicial source equated Thursday’s unrest with that 2015, when the camp was created.

Those left in the area, most of them young Africans and Afghan men, have been living rough in the woods and clash regularly with police, who clear their encampments and stop them from setting up roadblocks in a bid to slow passing trucks.

Grim living conditions have led to regular confrontations between migrants of different nationalities, and five people were shot in a fight between rival Afghan groups last November.

Charities working with migrants in the area say around 800 are currently living in Calais, while local authorities put the numbers at 550 to 600.

Last month French president Emmanuel Macron vowed zero tolerance for camps like the Jungle and secured a new border security deal which will see Britain pay more to stop migrants trying to reach its shores.

Mr Macron has said he wants to step up expulsions of economic migrants while speeding up waiting times for asylum applications – an approach he touts as mixing humanity and efficiency.

But his tougher line has earned criticism from some of his allies, with his former senior aide Jean Pisano-Ferry among those signing a hard-hitting open letter claiming Mr Macron risked betraying his image as a humanist.