Asylum seekers were evacuated to gyms after fire destroyed their shelters at the Grande-Synthe camp. (Reuters: Pascal Rossignol)
About 600 people are missing after a fire led to the evacuation of a refugee camp in northern France, medical aid charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says.
The fire destroyed large parts of the Grande-Synthe camp near Dunkirk on Monday night (local time) following clashes there earlier in the evening, firefighters and regional authorities said.
MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders, said while 900 evacuees were moved to alternative lodging with associations or local gymnasiums, some 600 asylum seekers were unaccounted for.
“We just don’t know where they are,” said Corenne Torre, head of the humanitarian group in France.
Michel Lalande, prefect for France’s Nord region, said five people had been hurt as a result of the blaze.
At least another five were injured during scuffles and a knife fight which prompted riot police to intervene. That led to further clashes involving up to 150 asylum seekers and security forces.
One migrant was knocked over by a car on a highway outside the camp and was in a critical condition, police said.
Officials linked the fight with the fire, but stressed that an investigation was needed to determine the fire’s cause.
French firemen work near a burnt out shelter at the Grande-Synthe camp. (Reuters: Pascal Rossignol)
The Grande-Synthe camp had housed around 1,500 asylum seekers and refugees, many of them Kurds. Its population has grown recently with a surge of arrivals from Afghanistan.
Grande-Synthe, also called the Liniere camp, has been home to one of the largest groups of asylum seekers on the French coast since the closure last October of a sprawling shanty town outside the nearby port of Calais.
Last week, some of Grande-Synthe’s inhabitants tried to block the nearby highway with tree trunks and branches in an attempt to stop the traffic and clamber onto the trucks and cars in the hope of reaching Britain.
Mr Lalande told journalists that it was unlikely that the Grande-Synthe camp, set up by MSF, could be rebuilt.