Four migrants are in a critical condition after being shot during a brawl between Eritrean and Afghan migrants in the northern French port city of Calais on Thursday in what an aid organisation has blamed on “criminal gangs”.
Another two migrants suffered less serious gunshot wounds and more than a dozen others others suffered other injuries, the local prefecture said, adding the numbers could change.
In total 22 people were hospitalised, some suffering stab wounds. Others had been attacked with iron bars, sticks and rocks.
According to AFP, the seriously injured migrants were Eritrean youths aged 16-18 and one was said to have been hit by a bullet in the back of the neck.
The BBC said a 37-year-old Afghan man is suspected of firing shots at a queue for food handouts.
Help Refugees on Friday issued a statement saying they had “always warned of the dangerous and violent potential of criminal gangs in Calais and the destructive influence they hold over those in the region”.
France Regional Manager Annie Gavrilescu said the brawl, “tragically shows the true extent of the suffering” gangs operating in Calais can cause, “pitting communities against each other for gain, while displaced men, women and children in Calais are barely surviving in the most inhumane conditions.”.
Gavrilescu put the number hospitalised after the clash at 22.
“The destitution, desperation and fear of the authorities have allowed these tragic events to take place. They follow 3 deaths and 2 nearly fatal accidents in the last 2 months, showing the sheer hopelessness looming over everyone,” she said.
French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb visited Calais overnight and said the clashes had been exceptionally serious.
“There’s been an escalation of violence that has become unbearable for both the people of Calais and the migrants,” he said, according to the BBC.
Collomb said the government would take control of food distribution, currently done by charities, with those groups working in association with authorities.
Several scuffles broke out mid-afternoon between migrants from different communities, authorities said. What sparked the unrest is not yet known.
The initial fight, was said to have lasted almost two hours, and began on the city’s southern outskirts where migrants has been queuing for food.
It started when an Afghan fired shots, AFP said.
“The police intervened to protect Afghan migrants who were threatened by 200 migrants of Eritrean nationality,” authorities said.
A second melee erupted at an industrial site around 5km away.
Authorities said around 600 migrants are in the Calais region, though humanitarian groups put the number at 800.
The violence comes as an anti-squat operation was carried out by police on Thursday morning.
The last fight between migrants resulting in gunshot wounds at the camp was in November last year. AFP said the incident involved two groups of Afghans, possible settling accounts between smugglers. Five people were injured.
Help Refugee’s Gavrilescu added: “We also strongly denounce the Calais mayor’s accusations that volunteers and NGOs are in any way complicit to the clashes which have left many seriously injured. This damaging rhetoric taints the humanitarian imperative we follow and only increases the power these criminal gangs have to feed violence and despair.
“As always we ask that the displaced population in Calais is treated with humanity. We hope that those injured recover quickly and quiet returns to Calais, for locals, refugees and aid workers alike.”