Four migrants were shot and wounded Thursday during a confrontation in France’s port city of Calais, with an Afghan migrant apparently firing the shots, the French Interior Ministry said.
Afghan and Eritrean migrants in the city, a gateway to Britain, had been fighting with sticks and stones before the shots were fired, regional authorities said.
Police had moved in to try to protect migrants who were being attacked, the ministry said in a statement. The four who were shot were listed in serious condition, while 14 others were slightly injured. The nationalities of the people hurt were not immediately clear.
The prefecture of the Pas-de-Calais had said earlier that two confrontations between Afghan and Eritrean migrants culminated in the gunfire. It is unusual for migrants to carry firearms.
The shootings are the most serious clash in recent times between migrants around Calais. French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb headed to the city for late-night meetings with officials.
Tensions have been high in Calais, where hundreds of migrants hoping to sneak across the English Channel huddle against the cold and police have orders to try to keep them from setting up camp. However, some officers have been criticized for overzealous policing.
The Pas-de-Calais prefecture said security forces were trying to protect Afghan migrants during a melee with Eritreans when the injuries happened.
The prefecture said the gunfire was the culmination of a showdown between Afghan and Eritrean migrants, fighting each other with sticks and stones, after a meal distribution near the Calais hospital, outside the town center.
In a second confrontation, up to 200 Eritrean migrants cornered 30 Afghans near the former site of a makeshift migrant camp that housed thousands of people before it was evacuated and destroyed in October 2016.
After police moved in “to protect the Afghan migrants,” the four were shot, the prefecture said.
The interior minister was to meet with police, the prefect and the Calais mayor. He also was meeting with riot police and associations, Collomb’s office said.
The incident comes weeks after President Emmanuel Macron visited Calais to lay out a broad policy for immigration, which he said involved humanity with a firm hand, in an address to security forces.
More than 1,130 French security forces have been posted in Calais, including riot police, border police and gendarmes, to keep migrants out of the port and Eurotunnel and to stop them from setting up camps. Macron told security forces they will be sanctioned if they fail to honor professional rules of conduct.