French police intervened Tuesday afternoon in clashes between two opposing groups of migrants in Calais, France. Riot police in the northern French ferry port were forced to break up a fight that saw Ethiopians and Eritreans charging at one another wielding sticks and hurling stones.
Police sources told VICE News that this was the fourth altercation since Monday night. The incident took place in the Dunes industrial park, an area of Calais that has recently become a makeshift camp for many migrants. The Pas-de-Calais prefecture estimates the number of migrants currently residing in Calais at 1,500.
According to French newspaper Le Figaro, riot police used tear gas to deter at least 300 migrants attempting to storm a line of UK-bound trucks on Monday. Le Monde reported similar scenes on Wednesday.
These events come just one week after police unions, unable to cope with the recent influx of migrants, staged a protest on October 13 demanding greater police presence. According to the head of the local police union, there are currently between 2,000 and 2,500 migrants residing in and around Calais.
"The clashes broke out between two communities — Ethiopians and Eritreans — and involved around a hundred people," Michel Soistier, deputy police commissioner of Calais, told VICE News. "The climate is tense, and the reasons for these confrontations remain unclear. The latest clash, which took place yesterday, was particularly violent, with stone-throwing and sticks."
Soistier went on to explain that the police response was followed by mediation to try to resolve the dispute.
"The police were able to repel both groups with tear gas," Soistier said. "Each [group] then went back to its own side […] The Calais prefecture has for its part initiated a mediation effort via the Secours Catholique [a French Christian charity] in an attempt to dissipate tensions between the two communities."
Soistier told VICE News that the typical approach to dealing with illegal immigrants on French soil is deportation — a solution that he thinks would be misguided in this particular situation.
"Right now, I don't think I have any migrants in police custody," he said. "Most [of the migrants] are here illegally. For now, the interior ministry is looking into solutions; it's a thorny issue. These people can't be deported, that would be inhumane. […] These are populations that come from countries at war. They have fled their homes to save their lives. They are people who are running for their lives. If you put yourself in their shoes, you can understand. Most of them are trying to get to England to find a job; to meet up with their family."
In an interview with Paris-based television channel France 24, immigration lawyer Sylvain Saligari elaborated on the legal predicament of the migrants, explaining that if they claim and receive asylum in France, then the Dublin Regulation bars them from any further refugee transmigration, effectively hindering any possible plans to make England their final destination.
Border police in Calais have recently spent millions upgrading vehicle-scanning equipment. Trucks headed to England are now checked with state-of-the-art scanners, which, according to sources at French newspaper La Voix du Nord, can cost up to half a million euros ($640,000) per unit. The UK is reportedly planning to invest in five scanners of their own, for a total cost of $3.8 million.