More than 51 east African migrants desperate to reach the “El Dorado” of the UK were injured in ethnic clashes early today in Calais over access to lorry parks, in the second night of rioting near the ferry terminal.
Charity workers say the authorities are “overwhelmed” by a recent increase in the numbers of migrants in Calais which now totals 1,300. The clashes involved Sudanese fighting Eritrean and Ethiopian migrants, with sticks, iron bars and stones. The violence prompted local authorities to send in riot police on Monday, but they failed to quell the battles which drew in 300 people overnight.
Earlier on Monday evening, violence erupted between the ethnic groups as they gathered at a food distribution centre. Three people were hurt.
“We don’t want to fight, we just want to go to England,” one Sudanese migrant told the local paper, La Voix du Nord.
The migrants slip into the lorry parks around the port nightly and try to climb on to trucks before they board Dover-bound ferries.
Video: Ethnic riots in Calais
Tensions exploded after some migrants, who live in makeshift camps, complained that Albanian gangs were charging for access to an overnight lorry park in the east Calais port. They were also limiting entry to other nationalities, whereas everybody had earlier had “free” entry. Eritrean migrants said that only Sudanese – who make up the majority – were gaining access.
The fighting, which involved about 150 people, broke out on Sunday night at a camp called Jungle 2, a disused factory. City authorities have closed down camps in the past only to see the migrants set up new ones.
In May, about 500 were taken for medical treatment after an outbreak of scabies in a tent city in Sangatte near the ferry port. The camp was demolished but now new waves of migrants have made their way to Calais.
The prefect for the Calais region, Denis Robin, said that the number of migrants had risen by 50 per cent in a few months. Whereas in the past they had tried to gain passage to England unnoticed, now there was “a rise in insecurity” because of the large numbers massing on the roads leading to the ferry port. He added that he would postpone closing the camps over the next few weeks to allow time for them to make asylum claims in France.
But Jean-Claude Larue, who works in Calais for the charity Secours Populaire, said that the migrants don’t necessarily want to stay in France. “The Albanian people smugglers lie to the African migrants and tell them that they can work in the UK which they describe as El Dorado.” Mr Larue told The Independent that the gangmasters were demanding between €2,000 to €3,000 from the migrants.
City officials say the migrants are coming from Italy through France. Le Figaro today published a leaked border police report which showed a sharp rise in the number of migrants slipping across the border from Italy. A total of 5,235 were arrested in France in the first half of this year. The report also said that 61,591 migrants arrived in Italy during the same period, up from 7,913 in the first six months of last year. Eritreans make up one third of the migrants, the report said, while Syrians totalled 17 per cent.
Border police in southeastern France have stepped up checkpoints to tackle the growing numbers of presumed Eritrean illegal arrivals, but they are hampered by the fact that most arrive without identity papers.
The clashes are the worst since 2009, when a camp at Sangatte was dismantled. Some of the Calais migrants are so desperate that they throw rocks in front of trucks to force them to take them on board, or jump on to moving vehicles. However, according to La Voix du Nord, the lorry drivers are striking back, armed with baseball bats or steel rods.
The latest crisis has raised the pressure on the Government at a time when David Cameron is cracking down on “benefits tourism” by EU migrants. The UK is reported to have upgraded vehicle scanning equipment to detect the presence of illegal migrants, and is installing thermo-detection cameras around perimeter fences in Calais. But the Government’s policy of screening applicants in Calais, rather than Dover, has been questioned by the French city’s centre-right mayor, Natacha Bouchart, who has written to Mr Cameron to urge him to “find solutions.”
Mr Larue said that the “blame game” between France and Britain was part of the problem. “We’ve got room in Calais to keep the migrants sheltered and fed. What we need are solutions from the French government.”