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French city beset as foreigners flow in

Africans, Middle Easterners jockey for chance to cross channel to Great Britain

By ELAINE GANLEY The Associated Press

This article was published August 6, 2014 at 5:08 a.m.

french-police-officers-talk-to-a-migrant-in-calais-france-on-tuesday-as-tensions-remain-high-after-overnight-clashes-between-rival-groups-waiting-to-cross-the-channel-to-britain-migrants-amassing-at-frances-english-channel-port-of-calais-clashed-before-dawn-on-tuesday

French police officers talk to a migrant in Calais, France, on Tuesday as tensions remain high after overnight clashes between rival groups waiting to cross the channel to Britain. Migrants amassing at France’s English Channel port of Calais clashed before dawn on Tuesday.

PARIS -- Foreigners flowing into Europe in unprecedented numbers are causing a tense summer in France as clashes break out among asylum-seekers in overcrowded camps and police fire tear gas to quell the chaos.

Sudanese and Eritreans battled in the sweltering heat in France's port city of Calais, frustrations rising as the Africans jockey for space while trying to sneak into Britain -- the dream destination some 20 miles away.

British police were on site in Calais trying to make sure the foreigners don't cross over. Their French counterparts fired tear gas Tuesday to break up the latest of three battles that left 51 injured, one seriously, the Calais prefecture said.

People fleeing poverty and war in Africa and the Middle East arrive in Calais with hopes of crossing the channel on a ferry or on trucks laden with cargo. Their numbers in the city at the edge of the English Channel have swelled to about 1,300, overwhelming the city, aid agencies and police.

Up to 40 extra riot police were sent into Calais to start duty Tuesday night, raising the number of police officers to 600, the city said.

"There are migrants who arrive each day, and each day some who succeed in getting to Britain," said Deputy Mayor Philippe Mignonet, who is in charge of security. He refused to say how many people outsmart the scanners, carbon dioxide detectors and other technology used on trucks and planted through the Channel Tunnel to try to catch them.

"Calais has been taken hostage," Mignonet said, blaming in part a Franco-British cooperation accord that he said puts the brunt of the burden on Calais. Like other officials, the deputy mayor complains that the British police presence effectively extends Britain's border to France.

Most foreigners in Calais start the European portion of their treacherous Mediterranean journeys in Italy, arriving on boats on the island of Lampedusa. Last year, total arrivals in Italy tallied 42,000. More than 60,000 have arrived on Italian shores so far this year.

Overwhelmed, Italy is increasingly waiving European rules to fingerprint the foreigners, allowing them to move on. Those looking to go to Britain often end up in Calais.

Britain is seen as treating foreigners more humanely than continental neighbors like France, where there are only 22,000 living units for some 60,000 asylum-seekers.

The clashes Monday night and twice Tuesday were a culmination of a months-long tug of war between Calais and the foreigners.

The city bulldozed makeshift camps in May. The foreigners then occupied a food distribution center but were expelled. Now, authorities threaten to expel hundreds in two abandoned factories. Under pressure, the people staying there have turned on one another.

"There are lots of people, so there is lots more tension," said Noemie Bourdet of aid group Secours Catholique in Calais.

Foreigners often are forced to pay small-time smugglers for a place in line in a parking lot where trucks leave for Britain. The clashes may have been over a place at a parking lot, Bourdet said.

Within France, there is a divergence of views about how well Calais and France cope with the asylum-seekers.

"They expel them without solutions," Bourdet said, echoing the claim that foreigners in Calais have been reduced to a security problem.

Mignonet disagreed.

"It is a doubly catastrophic situation for us," he said, explaining that the foreigners suffer and Calais suffers, too. "People only talk of Calais for its migrant problems ... This seriously hurts the city's image."

Information for this article was contributed by Colleen Barry of The Associated Press.

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