All photos: AFP
The huge fire gutted one of France's biggest migrant camps, which housed 1,500 people. It started after a brawl involving hundreds of Afghans and Kurds, officials and police said Tuesday.
The Grande-Synthe facility near the northern French port of Dunkirk was the only one in the area and provided hundreds of wooden huts for shelter, as well as cooking facilities and showers.
Three gymnasiums were provided for the displaced migrants, but only around 500 were actually taken in, according to Corenne Torre, head of the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders for France.
In other words, around 1,000 are still unaccounted for, she told The Local on Wednesday morning.
“Of course I'm worried and I'm absolutely convinced that most of them will come back to Paris, which will only cause more problems there,” Torre said.
“This is not a good situation and many of them may be in danger. Those that stay in Grande-Synthe are left walking along the roads where some have been hit by passing cars,” she added.
“Many of them don't speak French and many are with minors as young as 14. We don't know what will happen to them.”
She said that some of the migrants may be in hiding for fear of being put together with members of rival gangs.
As most of the migrants are looking to move through to the UK, they often aren't interested in the refugee centre in La Chappelle in Paris, meaning that they tend to stay on the streets.
“Then the police will intervene to keep them off the streets, and then we will see more tensions. These people want to go to the UK, they are in transit,” she said.
The camp in Grande-Synthe itself has largely been destroyed, with only around 70 of 300 huts and a handful of communal buildings still intact on Tuesday morning. The others were smoldering embers or burned beyond repair, along with their contents.
The camp, built by the humanitarian group MSF (Doctors Without Borders), opened in March 2016 over the objections of the central government, which announced plans to close it in March.
Scramble for other accommodation
For more than a decade France's northern coast has been a magnet for refugees and migrants trying to reach Britain, causing tension between the two neighbours.
Ahead of the presidential election in two weeks' time, the fire quickly became a campaign issue, with far-right leader Marine Le Pen saying it underlined the need to control immigration.
“This chaos must stop,” she said. “All migrants' camps will be dismantled after my election if the French people elect me as head of state.”
Her main rival for the presidency, Emmanuel Macron, has pledged to scrap a treaty with Britain under which France has secured its northern border to stop migrants crossing the narrow Channel sea.
“We will need to take up discussions with Britain again on the situation which leaves us acting as border guards for this country,” the secretary general of Macron's party, Richard Ferrand, told the LCI channel.