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Investigators Try to Determine Cause of French Refugee Camp Fire

  • VOA News

This general view shows debris and shelters the day after a fire destroyed large swathes of the Grande-Synthe migrant camp near Dunkirk in northern France, April 11, 2017.

A refugee camp in northern France burned down Monday night after a massive brawl involving more than 150 migrants broke out between rival groups of Kurds and Afghans, French authorities said.

The fire destroyed most of the Grande-Synthe migrant camp near Dunkirk and the fighting left several people injured, according to the regional prefect, Michel Lalande.

As many as 1,600 migrants were living in the camp at the time of the fire, many of whom lost all the meager possessions they had, Lalande said.

Around 500 migrants were taken to nearby gymnasiums, but the rest are unaccounted for, Lalande and Damien Careme, mayor of Grande-Synthe, told reporters Tuesday.

FILE - Migrants evacuate as a huge fire blazes through the Grande-Synthe migrant camp outside the northern French city of Dunkirk late April 10, 2017, reducing it to "a heap of ashes," the regional chief said.
FILE - Migrants evacuate as a huge fire blazes through the Grande-Synthe migrant camp outside the northern French city of Dunkirk late April 10, 2017, reducing it to "a heap of ashes," the regional chief said.

"There is nothing left but a heap of ashes," Lalande said. "It will be impossible to put the huts back where they were before."

Grande-Synthe was set up last year by the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders and housed mostly Kurdish refugees. Its population swelled in October after the notorious Calais refugee camp, located about 25 miles away, was shuttered and destroyed.

A large number of migrants arrived from Afghanistan recently, further increasing the camp population.

Corenne Torre, head of the group's French operation, told the Associated Press that authorities are scrambling to find the unaccounted-for migrants.

"We just don't know where they are," she said, adding that some could be hiding in fear of authorities or fear of rival gangs at the camp.

Investigators are still trying to determine the exact cause of the fire, though Lalande and Careme said authorities believe it was set intentionally as part of Monday night's brawl.

Migrants sleep in a gym after a big fire which destroyed many wood houses at a camp for migrants in Grande-Synthe near Dunkirk, France, April 11, 2017.
Migrants sleep in a gym after a big fire which destroyed many wood houses at a camp for migrants in Grande-Synthe near Dunkirk, France, April 11, 2017.

Torre said 10 migrants went to the hospital with injuries sustained during the fire. At least six migrants were wounded during the brawl, three of whom suffered stab wounds. Another migrant was left in critical condition after being hit by a car outside the camp.

Riot police intervened in the brawl, which led to further fighting between migrants and authorities.

Migrants have gathered for decades along the coast in northern France, with hopes of reaching Britain.

The Grande-Synthe camp has seen several violent incidents in recent months, with the most recent coming last week when migrants tried to block traffic and climb onto vehicles on a nearby highway.

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