Hundreds missing after migrant camp fire in France

Ten people were injured in the blaze at the settlement in Grande-Synthe, Dunkirk

The aftermath of a fire at the Grande-Synthe migrant camp, in Dunkirk France. Photograph: Philippe  Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

The aftermath of a fire at the Grande-Synthe migrant camp, in Dunkirk France. Photograph: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

 

Several hundred migrants have disappeared after they were evacuated from a camp in northern France due to a fire, according to authorities and aid workers.

Ten people were injured in the blaze at the camp in the Dunkirk suburb of Grande-Synthe.

Police cordoned off the camp and investigators inspected the site to try to determine the cause of Monday night’s fire, which broke out following a fight between rival groups of migrants.

Most of the camp near the English Channel now consists of the charred remains of wooden shelters and the sparse belongings of the migrants, who settled in northern France in the hope of reaching Britain.

As many as 1,600 people were in the camp when the blaze broke out, according to the mayor of Grande-Synthe and the prefect for the region.

Some 500 were taken to three local gyms, including one set aside for children and families, but most of the other migrants remained unaccounted for, the mayor and prefect said.

Médecins Sans Frontières, which set up the site a year ago to replace filthy makeshift camps in the region, is holding meetings to decide what to do next.

Other aid groups are planning to distribute meals on Tuesday to migrants in the gyms and elsewhere in the town.

The first priority is to find the migrants dispersed by the blaze, said Corenne Torre, head of the humanitarian group in France.

“We just don’t know where they are,” she said.

She estimated that at least 600 migrants remain unaccounted for.

Some fear the authorities and others fear rejoining a camp that contains rival gangs, she said.

She said that 10 migrants are in local hospitals with minor injuries following the fire, which came hours after a clash involving up to 150 migrants.

Fight

Authorities said they believed the fire was set intentionally and was linked to a fight earlier on Monday between Kurdish and Afghan migrant groups.

The camp will remain closed during the police investigation.

Local authorities will consider whether to open a new camp to replace it.

The incident is a sensitive topic in France, just 12 days ahead of a presidential election in which immigration is a key issue.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and others are calling for strict border controls and a crackdown on migration.

PA