French migrant camp housing 1,500
Brawl involving hundreds of
Afghans, Iraqi Kurds causes inferno that eats
through one of France’s biggest camps, leaves
only 70 of 300 huts intact.
One resident says
fight stemmed from football dispute
DUNKIRK - A 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 Tuesday.
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 (miles)
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
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.
- Scramble for other accommodation -
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, said 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 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 pm
(1930 GMT) Monday.
Lalande said the fighting had left six
injured with knife wounds.
The loss of the camp left local authorities
scrambling to find alternative accommodation
for the residents, most of whom were fleeing
war or poverty in the Middle East or
Around half of the residents were hastily
lodged in public gymnasiums overnight.
- Spate of violent incidents -
Local association Auberge des Migrants
warned that it had been unable to find many
minors who were previously in the camp.
"Our volunteers were telling us that there
had been tensions for weeks linked to the
overpopulation of the camp," Auberge des
Migrants vice president Francois Guennoc
The number of people in the Grande-Synthe
camp had swelled since the destruction last
October of the squalid "Jungle" camp near
Calais, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) away.
"Since the closure of Calais, there isn't
any other reception centre on the coast,"
According to several witnesses,
disagreements arose after an increase in the
number of Afghans who arrived from the
"I thought it was normal that the Kurds were
here, it was their camp, and we (Afghans)
had Calais," Emal said. "But Calais doesn't
exist any more."
The Afghans were apparently unhappy at being
put up in the communal kitchens while the
Kurds slept in chalets, local sources said.
The brawl was the latest in several violent
incidents at the camp, with police
intervening last month after five men were
injured in a fight. Another man was stabbed
Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux announced
plans to close the camp in March, citing
public order problems.
The government also believes the camps
encourage people to travel to northern
France where they seek to break into trucks
heading to Britain or pay smugglers to help
them get across the Channel.
Migrants have been encouraged to register
asylum applications in France, but many are
determined to travel to Britain for family
or language reasons, or because they believe
work opportunities are more plentiful in
Repeated break-ins around ports in northern
France have caused delays to travellers and
truck drivers. Local residents have also
complained about the damage done to the
image of their area.
Middle East Online