Five migrants were shot and many more were injured during a giant brawl that erupted in the French port city of Calais, prompting authorities to call the escalation of violence “intolerable.”
Twenty-two people were hospitalised with injuries after three fights across the city on Thursday that drew in hundreds of the migrants camped out in the hope of stowing away on trucks bound for England, according to officials.
Four Eritreans, who were shot in the neck, chest, abdomen and spine at a food distribution point, were still in critical condition Friday. A fifth who was also shot was not facing life-threatening injuries. A number of other migrants sustained stab wounds in the other melees sparked by the incident.
Police were searching for a 37-year-old Afghan, a suspected migrant smuggler, over the attack but the prosecutor’s office in the nearby town of Boulogne-sur-Mer said witnesses reported seeing several people fire shots.
At least five migrants shot and more than twenty injured during a fight in the former Calais migrant camp known as the Jungle pic.twitter.com/RCbqL665li
— Ruptly (@Ruptly) February 2, 2018
The incident happened during a standoff between about 100 Eritreans and some 30 Afghans queueing for free meals near the town’s hospital.
“There were migrants who had no money, the smugglers got angry and fired shots,” an 18-year-old Afghan migrant, who gave his name as Daniel, told AFP while waiting in near-zero temperatures for tea and bread from a charity on Friday.
Shortly afterwards, over 100 Eritreans armed with iron rods and sticks attacked a group of around 20 Afghans at another food distribution point next to an industrial estate, prosecutors said.
Police intervened to protect the Afghans, the authorities said. Two police officers were injured during the clashes.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who visited the scene, said the recurring brawls had become “intolerable for the people of Calais and the migrants” and told those with dreams of Britain to stay away.
His remarks came as the U.N.’s migration agency reported at least 90 people were feared dead off the coast of Libya after their boat capsized.
J’arrive au commissariat de Calais pour soutenir nos forces de Police et de @Gendarmerie qui œuvrent dans un contexte particulièrement délicat.
Ici, elles assurent la sécurité de tous. Y compris des migrants qu’elles protègent lorsque de violentes rixes surviennent. pic.twitter.com/yJZD7LfvmN
— Gérard Collomb (@gerardcollomb) February 1, 2018
The violence in Calais comes two weeks after President Emmanuel Macron visited the city with a message of zero tolerance on migrants setting up camps like the sprawling “Jungle” which was razed in 2016.
He later met with Prime Minister Theresa May, who agreed to pay more to stop migrants reach England’s shores.
Crucially, Mr. Macron did not seek to renegotiate a controversial 2003 deal effectively pushing Britain’s borders back onto French soil.
Mr. Collomb blamed the tensions in Calais on smugglers who reportedly charge as much as 2,500 euros ($3,100) to sneak migrants onto trucks crossing the Channel by ferry or through the Eurotunnel.
“These networks must be broken up,” he said Friday, announcing police reinforcements for the area.