A sudden surge of refugees arriving in Calais is stoking new tensions between migrant communities and led to the mass brawl and multiple shootings that shocked France last week.
There has been a 25% increase in the number of migrants heading for the French port, placing pressure on food handouts and increasing competition for routes into the UK.
Migrants and charities blamed the rapid increase on a recent border treaty between France and the UK, which raised “false hopes” that it would be easier to reach Britain.
The treaty, signed by President Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May a fortnight ago, promised to accelerate the processing of migrants in the port city and was heralded as “a more humane approach”.
Yet while the new migrants had hoped for a quicker journey across the Channel, they discovered that there was little food and almost no shelter at the port.
Shortly after 2.30pm on Thursday at least five migrants were shot at close range as they queued for food handouts, prompting a running brawl between Afghans and Eritreans across the city. Four Eritreans aged between 16 and 18 remain in a critical condition in hospital as the French police hunt for the gunman, who is believed to be a 37-year-old Afghan people-smuggler.
Speaking in the city, close to where the shootings took place, Laura Griffiths, of the refugee charity Safe Passage, said: “The treaty led to many new arrivals but also rumours – false hopes – that there would be an easy passage to the UK. These new arrivals increased tension at distribution points. In reality, the only legal passage is for minors, and even this is not working effectively.”
Griffiths said that following the border treaty announcement the charity recorded the arrival of 200 migrants entering Calais from surrounding locations in northern France and Paris, bringing the total within the port to around 800.
François Guennoc, vice-president of the Calais charity L’Auberge des Migrants, said the UK-France border agreement had caused chaos. “It gave people hope to reach England,” he said. “People arrived suddenly, about 200, mainly underage people and women who arrived in Calais because they thought that the Home Office said they [could] go directly to England. Then they thought the Home Office was lying. People were upset – it was crazy.”
Migrants said that the treaty had provoked frustration among desperate individuals, many of whom sleep rough in the woods near Calais.
Ifa Derrec, a 22-year-old ethnic Oromo fleeing violence in Ethiopia, said: “Many new persons arrived, and those already here became angry because they have been waiting a long time and then new people take their food. This causes the problem. We are too cold and hungry, there is violence because of this,” he said, shivering outside his flimsy tent on a patch of muddy wasteland.
Others volunteer alternative theories for the shooting, which has raised fresh scrutiny on how France intends to deal with the increasing numbers of migrants converging on Calais.
Ife Magiso, 20, from Ethiopia, described how a growing enmity between Afghan and Eritrean migrants in Calais began during a dispute over access to a lorry park an hour’s walk from the east side of the city. The lorry park, off the region’s main artery, the A16, offers the frequent chance of climbing into the backs of lorries headed to the port of Calais, but was controlled by Afghan smugglers, who refused to allow Eritreans to use it.
“They say it’s theirs. That’s unfair because we share our [lorry] parks with anyone,” said Heeran, 19, another Oromo migrant, who arrived in Calais three months ago.