French police are investigating claims that British anarchists and activists sympathetic to migrants in Calais Jungle lit raging fires there in an effort to prevent the camp’s dismantling. The fires injured several migrants and burned down parts of the camp.
Arson attacks began as early as Tuesday evening and intensified overnight, destroying makeshift shops and tents at the entrance of the squalid camp, according to police.
Between 150 and 200 migrants including Afghans and Syrian had to be evacuated, among whom a dozen of minors, as the blaze spread.
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The fires sent flames and thick black smoke gushing into the sky, and caused two gas cylinders normally used for meal preparation to explode. Several migrants were hit by exploding glass bottles. The worst injured was a 20-year-old Syrian man, who was rushed to hospital with an ear injury.
The police commissioner leading the eviction, Patrick Visser Bourdon, said migrants told him the British activist group ‘No Borders’ was responsible for the arson.
“We are investigating these claims, and trying to find those responsible,” he told the Telegraph. According to residents of the shantytown, members of the left-wing activist group came into the camp “in the middle of the night” to set off the canisters.
Members of the anti-borders group had met in South London over the weekend ahead of the planned three-day operation to tear down the Jungle, with clear intention to “fight” police forces and stop them from evicting migrants from the camp. During the meeting one activist even boasted that “lots of [them] would be going down” to Calais.
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Firefighters rushed to scene of the blaze to try and deal with the inferno, but were attacked with projectiles. “Rocks were being hurled at us and the police had to intervene to protect us,” one firefighter at the site said.
The worst fires raged between 12.30 a.m. and 3.00 a.m., according to police reports, at which point “violence […] took a more serious turn,” said Philippe Mignonnet, the deputy mayor of Calais.
Some 4,000 migrants have been bussed out of the Calais Jungle this week, and relocated in asylum centers dotted around France.
The head of the Pas-de-Calais region, Fabienne Bucho, announced Wednesday that the operation to dismantle the camp would be completely over by the evening. “There is no one left in the camp” she said.
Yet, according to AFP journalists on site, hundreds of young men still remain in the Jungle. And many, including Sudanese refugees banked in makeshift homes at the edge of the camp, have pledged to resist eviction.
“We do not want to use force but we will intervene if migrants refuse to leave,” a French interior ministry spokesman said.