More than 50 migrants hurt in clashes at French port

LILLE France Tue Aug 5, 2014 1:50pm EDT

1 of 5. French riot police stand guard as migrants wait before a daily food distribution close to the city hall in Calais, northern France August 5, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

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LILLE France (Reuters) - More than 50 people were injured, one seriously, on Tuesday when clashes broke out among African migrants gathered at France's northern port of Calais trying to reach Britain, authorities said.

Police intervened to separate hundreds of migrants who had renewed a fight that broke out on Monday between Eritreans and Sudanese during the distribution of an evening meal.

Police "twice had to separate the migrants and allow access to ambulances and firefighters," an official at the Pas-de-Calais prefecture said.

Despite the periodic dismantling of makeshift migrant camps since May, the number of migrants has continued to increase. The prefecture estimated the number of migrants currently in the port and industrial zone of Calais at 1,200-1,300.

Christian Salmone, head of humanitarian group "Hostel for Migrants" which has been distributing food, said since May about 50 have arrived each week. "It just doesn't stop," he said.

Salmone said the migrants, desperate to cross the English Channel to Britain, are taking more risks as they try to hide in or underneath vehicles making the crossing.

"We're seeing that they've become much more daring and they're taking every risk. Before, they would sleep during the day and try to discreetly slip into the trucks at night. Now they're taking on the trucks in broad daylight," he said.

Some 40 riot police have been patrolling the area since Monday after a series of confrontations in recent days to curb what authorities have called an escalation in violence.

Le Figaro daily, citing a confidential French border police report, wrote on Tuesday that 65,591 illegal immigrants had landed in Italy between Jan. 1 and June 30, versus 7,913 in the first half of 2013, with Eritreans making up a third of the migrants, followed by Syrians, many trying to escape the civil war.

Some 5,235 Eritreans illegally in France were arrested in the first six months of the year, the report said, adding more women and children were being seen as well.

The majority of those arrested were sent back to Italy. Nearly 900 were freed but ordered to leave France, although an undisclosed number asked for political asylum, the report said.

Three migrant camps in Calais were emptied by police in late May, an operation denounced by humanitarian groups.

Prefect Denis Robin had justified the move saying there had been a rise in violence and numerous cases of scabies.

In 2009, police cleared an infamous camp in Calais dubbed "the jungle." Inhabited by thousands of illegal migrants, mostly Afghans, the camp had sprung up after France closed a large Red Cross center at nearby Sangatte in 2002 under pressure from Britain, which saw it as a magnet for clandestine immigrants.

(Writing By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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