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Four teenage migrants are in a critical condition after being shot during a huge brawl in the French port of Calais involving Afghans and Eritreans armed with sticks and stones, local authorities said.
Four Eritreans aged between 16 and 18 were taken to hospital, the local prosecutor’s office said.Another wounded migrant was taken to the nearby city of Lille because of his “very serious state of health,” the local prefect’s office said.
A fight lasting nearly two hours took place on the southern outskirts of Calais among about 100 Eritreans and 30 Afghans who had been queueing for food handouts. It reportedly started when an Afghan fired shots.
A second melee broke out at an industrial site about 5 km (three miles) away, where more than 100 Eritreans fought about 20 Afghans, prosecutors said.
“Police intervened to protect the Afghan migrants faced with 150 to 200 Eritrean migrants,” the local prefecture said.
It was the worst violence in Calais since clashes on 1 July 2017 left 16 people wounded. A year earlier in June, 40 people were injured in clashes in the northern port town which draws migrants trying to cross the Channel into Britain.
France’s interior minister, Gerard Collomb, said he would be visiting the area by helicopter. “After today’s serious incidents, I shall be heading for Calais tonight to take stock of the situation with the prefect, the mayor and local players,” he tweeted.
The notorious “Jungle” camp in Calais, once home to about 10,000 people hoping to make it to Britain, was demolished in 2016, but hundreds of migrants remain in the port city seeking to stow away on trucks bound for England.
Those left, most of them young African and Afghan men, have been living rough in the woods and clash regularly with police. Grim living conditions have led to regular confrontations between migrants of different nationalities; five people were shot in a fight between rival Afghan groups last November.
Charities working with migrants in the area say around 800 are living in Calais, while local authorities put the numbers at 550-600.
Last month, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, vowed zero tolerance for camps such as the Jungle and secured a new border security deal with Britain which will pay more to stop migrants trying to reach its shores.
Macron has said he wants to step up expulsions of economic migrants while speeding up waiting times for asylum applications – an approach he touts as mixing “humanity” and “efficiency”.
But his tougher line has earned criticism from some of his allies, with his former senior aide Jean Pisano-Ferry among those signing a hard-hitting open letter claiming Macron risked betraying his image as a humanist.