Fears are growing a fire that destroyed a migrant camp in Dunkirk could result in the creation of a new Jungle shantytown in northern France and increase the number of would-be asylum seekers attempting to sneak into the UK illegally.
Much of the Grande-Synthe camp, which was opened at a cost of millions of euros last year, was burned to the ground in the early hours of Tuesday morning after rival groups of migrants fought each other in running battles.
At least ten people were injured as flames tore through the site, which was home to more than 1,500 migrants, most of whom had designs on making it across the Channel to Britain.
Speaking with reporters after the fire, Michel Lalande, prefect of France’s Nord region, said: “There is nothing left but a heap of ashes. It will be impossible to put the huts back where they were before.”
Charites and local officials said the blaze left hundreds of migrants with no option but to sleep rough, prompting concerns they will attempt to set up a new unofficial camp after refusing to accept places at alternatives sites in other parts of France.
The areas around Calais and Dunkirk have become a magnet for people smugglers, who charge migrants thousands of euros each for safe passage to the south of England.
Hauliers have warned that destruction of the site could lead to an increase in the number of migrants attempting to sneak into the UK by hiding themselves lorries.
In a statement, Chief Executive of Britain’s Road Haulage Association (RHA) Richard Burnett said: “Already we are seeing migrants return to the Calais area – all with the same goal; to reach the UK by whatever means possible and that usually means on the back of a truck.
“They have no thought for either their own safety, or of anyone else. A sudden influx of well over 1,000 displaced migrants will only make what is already a bad situation much, much worse.
“I am greatly concerned that the only people who may come out of this well will be the people smugglers – those that make a living through human trafficking.”
Yesterday, French riot police were called in to stop migrants returning to the camp, after many of them were forced to sleep by the roadside after it burned to the ground.
In May last year, five members of a trafficking gang were jailed in France for charging inhabitants of the camp more than €9,000 euros each for “guaranteed passage” to Britain.
The men were caged as prosecutors in the region said British gangs were heavily involved in people smuggling operations that targeted migrants at the camp. One told the Telegraph at the time that she was tracking 15 trafficking cases that involved vehicles with UK number plates.