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Hundreds of Migrants Brawl With Iron Bars and Knives at 'New Jungle' Camp in France

More than 20 people were injured after fighting broke out at a makeshift camp for migrants in the northern French port town of Calais.
June 1, 2015, 7:15pm
Photo by Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

More than 20 people were injured, with 14 requiring hospital treatment, after fighting broke out late Sunday night and early Monday morning between hundreds of migrants in the northern French port town of Calais.

The brawl erupted at a makeshift camp known as the "New Jungle." According to the local prosecutor, the clashes involved Sudanese, Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Afghan migrants that pass through the French ferry port hoping to board UK-bound trucks.

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"It started off as an argument over a pack of cigarettes," Christian Salomé, who runs local migrant support group Auberge des Migrants, told VICE News. "Fighting broke out between Ethiopian or an Eritrean [migrant] and a Sudanese [migrant], and they were soon joined by members of their communities."

Several tents and makeshift homes were set on fire during the melee, and the violence quickly escalated, with some migrants attacking others with iron bars and knives.

Related: Migrants Live in Makeshift French Camp As They Seek Asylum in the UK

The brawl came just days after a man was reportedly wounded in a shooting after a fight broke out in a parking lot in Calais. Four Afghan migrants were detained following the shooting, but later released due to lack of evidence.

A police source cited in local daily La Voix du Nord described the fighting as a turf war between rival smuggling gangs, but Salomé thinks the talk of "gangs" is a bit of an exaggeration. "All this is happening because people are at their wits' end," he said. "The most recent fight, on Sunday night, followed a simple enough formula explanation: Few [UK-bound] trucks because of the weekend, a high concentration of migrants, different communities with different cultures, and a certain amount of alcohol."

According to Salomé's organization, around 3,000 migrants currently live on the 45-acre area covered by the "New Jungle," the only camp that is tolerated by the Calais authorities. Located on the outskirts of town, the makeshift settlement is close to the Jules-Ferry migrant drop-in center, a government-run facility that opened in January 2015. The center, built on a former children's summer camp, is intended to become the sole space for Calais' migrant population.

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Migrants in Calais have mostly been left to their own devices since the closure of the infamous Sangatte camp in 2002. Housed in a giant warehouse, the Sangatte camp was shuttered amid criticism of the harsh conditions endured by the 2,000 refugees who lived there.

Related: Remembering Sangatte, France's Notorious Refugee Camp

Salomé said the new Jules-Ferry drop-in center has "somewhat improved the situation" for migrants. "There are showers, electric outlets so migrants can charge their phones, and every day a hot meal is served," he said.

The recent tensions, he explained, are caused by the high concentration of migrants from various communities. "Before, each community had its own area," he said. "There were several camps, but none was tolerated [by the authorities]. Now there's only one camp."

A member of the migrant support group Salam who spoke to VICE News on the condition of anonymity echoed Salomé's diagnosis of the situation, saying that different migrant communities living in close proximity to each other has led to outbursts of violence.

"We [Salam] estimate that migrant numbers will continue to rise until September," the source said. "It should slow down after that." The organization said it will help rebuild the parts of the camp that were destroyed in the recent brawl by "bringing in tarpaulins, blankets, and tents."

In an unrelated incident, an unidentified migrant in his early twenties was killed Sunday night when he was hit by a car as he attempted to cross the freeway that links Calais to Paris. Local authorities have not yet confirmed the young man's nationality.

Related: Video Shows French Cops Shoving Migrants Over Guardrail

Follow Matthieu Jublin on Twitter : @MatthieuJublin