Huge fire destroys French migrant camp
GRANCE-SYNTHE, FranceA huge fire has destroyed one of the biggest migrant camps in France housing 1,500 people, which started after a brawl involving hundreds of Afghans and Kurds, officials and police said April 11.
The Grande-Synthe facility near the northern French port of Dunkirk was the only one in the area and provided hundreds of wooden huts for shelter, as well as cooking facilities and showers.
“There is nothing left but a heap of ashes,” Michel Lalande, prefect of France’s Nord region, told reporters overnight as firefighters battled the flames which were visible from several kilometres away, AFP reported.
Firefighters said at least 10 people had been injured in the inferno, which followed an outbreak of fighting that required riot police to intervene.
The scale of the destruction became clear in the morning, with only 70 out of 300 huts and a handful of communal buildings still intact. The others were smouldering embers or burned beyond repair, along with their contents. The camp, built by the humanitarian group MSF (Doctors Without Borders), opened in March 2016 over the objections of the central government, which announced plans to close it in March.
For more than a decade France’s northern coast has been a magnet for refugees and migrants trying to reach Britain, causing tension between the two neighbours.
“There must have been fires deliberately set in several different places, it is not possible otherwise,” said Olivier Caremelle, chief of staff of Grande-Synthe mayor Damien Careme, an environmentalist who supported the building of the camp last year.
“It seems that it is related to fights between Iraqis and Afghans,” he said.
One resident, Emal, told AFP that the fighting had started after a football match between Afghans when the ball struck a Kurd from Iraq “who insulted the Afghan people.”
The Afghans tried to catch him but he managed to escape before returning with a gang of armed friends, Emal said.
A police source, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said there had been several bouts of fighting which culminated in a massive brawl involving around 600 people at 9:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. GMT) on April 10.
Lalande said the fighting had left six injured with knife wounds.