Police hunting for human trafficker after Calais migrant brawl leaves 4 critically injured

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CALAIS, France (AFP) - Four teenaged migrants were in critical condition on Thursday (Feb 1) after being shot during a huge brawl in the French port of Calais involving a hundred Afghans and Eritreans armed with sticks and stones, local authorities said.

The four Eritreans aged between 16 and 18 were taken to hospital, the local prosecutor's office said, addng at least 13 more people were injured, suffering "blows from iron bars".

It was not immediately clear who fired the bullets.

The nearly two-hour fight broke out on the southern outskirts of Calais among migrants who had been queueing for food handouts.

"There were migrants who had no money, the smugglers got angry and fired shots," an 18-year-old Afghan migrant who gave his name as Daniel said while queueing in near-zero temperatures for tea and bread on Friday at a distribution point in an industrial estate.

A second fight then broke out at an industrial site around 5km, with more than a hundred Eritreans fighting about 20 Afghans, prosecutors said.

Four Eritreans, who were shot in the neck, chest, abdomen and spine at the food distribution point, were still in critical condition on Friday, they said. A fifth who was also shot was not facing life-threatening injuries.

Police were searching for a 37-year-old Afghan, a suspected migrant smuggler, over the attack, but the prosecutor's office in the nearby town of Boulogne-sur-Mer said witnesses reported seeing several people fire shots.

"It's a bit hazy," an official at the prosecutor's office said.

A number of other migrants sustained stab wounds in the melees sparked by the incident.

"Police intervened to protect the Afghan migrants faced with 150 to 200 Eritrean migrants," the local prefecture said, adding that security reinforcements were being deployed in the area.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who visited the scene, said the recurring brawls had become "intolerable for the people of Calais and the migrants".

Mr Collomb blamed the tensions on the smugglers who reportedly charge as much as 2,500 euros (S$4,102.14) to get migrants onto trucks crossing the Channel by ferry or through the Eurotunnel.

"These networks must be broken up," he said on Friday, announcing police reinforcements for the area.

Mr Collomb appealed to migrants to stay away from Calais - long a jump-off point for illegal Channel crossings - saying the government would not allow them settle there.

Calling Calais "a wall which the migrants are slamming into" he said: "The message I want to get across is that if you want to go to Britain, it's not here you should come."

The notorious Jungle camp in Calais, once home to some 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 England-bound trucks.

A judicial source equated Thursday's unrest with that 2015, when the camp was created.

Those left in the area, most of them young Africans and Afghan men, have been living rough in the woods and clash regularly with police, who clear their encampments and stop them from setting up roadblocks in a bid to slow passing trucks.

Grim living conditions have led to regular confrontations between migrants of different nationalities, and five people were shot in a fight between rival Afghan groups last November.

Charities working with migrants in the area say around 800 are currently living in Calais, while local authorities put the numbers at 550 to 600.

Last month, President Emmanuel Macron vowed zero tolerance for camps like the "Jungle" and secured a new border security deal which will see Britain 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.

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