Murder in Calais spreads fear among asylum-seekers hoping to cross Channel

A Sudanese refugee waiting to be smuggled into Britain from Calais was murdered in a dispute with a people trafficker over delays to his journey across the Channel, it emerged yesterday.

A Sudanese refugee waiting to be smuggled into Britain from Calais was murdered in a dispute with a people trafficker over delays to his journey across the Channel, it emerged yesterday.

The fatal stabbing of the 35-year-old man has raised concern among humanitarian groups that the French port is becoming a flash-point for ethnic tensions between groups of asylum seekers desperate to reach the UK.

Despite the closure two years ago of the Sangatte refugee centre, which had housed up to 2,000 people, Calais continues to act as a magnet for immigrants and criminal middlemen who prey on their desire to enter Britain.

French police yesterday confirmed that tension between African refugees - mostly from Sudan and Somalia - and Iraqi Kurds had led to a fight on the edge of Calais port in which the Sudanese refugee, named by his friends as Mohammed Isa, was murdered.

A spokesman for investigators in Coquelles, the part of Calais where the attack took place, said: "A struggle broke out between groups of refugees - up to 50 men, many of them Kurds and Somalians.

"This fight was broken up by officers but in its aftermath a body was found alongside a railway line close to the scene. This was a man who had been stabbed in the throat.

"There have been incidents between groups from different places. But a murder is extremely unusual. It is being pursued very seriously."

The brawl, which took place last Friday, happened at 8pm - a time of day favoured by traffickers and refugees to gather at the points in Calais where attempts to secrete immigrants onto lorries take place.

Police confirmed that they were investigating claims from witnesses that Mr Isa, who had been waiting in Calais since August, died after he confronted the Kurdish middleman to whom he had paid €300 (£215) to be smuggled onto a truck travelling to Dover.

Friends of the refugee, who had left behind a wife and two children in Sudan, said he had become angry after his journey to Britain failed to materialise.

The racketeers, mostly of Iraqi Kurdish origin, have been accused of frequently taking money from immigrants - many of them escaping poverty and conflict in locations such as Darfur in Sudan - and failing to keep their side of the bargain.

One friend of Mr Isa, a 25-year-old Nigerian who declined to be named, said: "When Mohammed got tired of waiting for his passage, an argument followed and he was beaten and stabbed in the neck. He had come over here to have a better life and ended up dying here."

A Kurdish man, claimed by witnesses to have been Mr Isa's attacker, was arrested at the scene but later released. Eight Somalians also detained for interview about the attack were released on Sunday.

Campaigners said the killing once more highlighted concerns about the welfare of refugees who continue to choose to live in Calais in grim conditions.

Dozens of men shelter every night in woodland and abandoned buildings despite an agreement between the British and French governments that all such immigrants will be allowed to seek asylum in France and prevented from reaching Dover by stringent security measures.

The death of Mr Isa led to a protest by a group of around 50 African refugees who vowed to go on hunger strike at a Calais church until the murderer was caught.

The protest was ended by force on Tuesday by French riot police who arrested the men and took them to an undisclosed detention centre. French officials said the men had now applied for asylum - a move claimed by French campaigners to have happened under duress.

Keith Best, chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service, said: "The closure of Sangatte has not removed the problem. The British government is stopping people in Calais reaching the UK but what it is not doing is fulfilling its obligation to allow genuine refugees to apply for asylum in this country."

In the meantime, dozens of refugees were last night continuing their wait in Calais, queuing each evening for hand-outs of food and clothing.

Refar, 24, another Sudanese who had arrived in the port two weeks ago, said: "I think this might be the end for me. I think I will die here. I spend my days talking to other refugees or sometimes I go for a walk about the city. Mostly I just wait. It's a harsh existence."