Migrants and security forces clashed for a third consecutive night in Calais, as tensions are running high across makeshift camps in the French city, following a security clampdown that authorities claim has quashed illegal crossings to the UK. About 250 riot police officers fired tear gas and water cannon to quell unrest near the so-called "jungle" encampment in the northern port.
France's interior ministry said the confrontation was "calmer" than those of the previous two nights, when a total of 43 officers reported injuries from rocks and other objects hurled at them.
The incidents came as frustrations were growing in the camps, currently housing a record 6,000 people, as tightened controls on access to the port and Eurotunnel have made it significantly harder for migrants to cross to Britain.
Local government official Fabienne Buccio claimed that not a single person has successfully crossed the Channel illegally since new security arrangements at the port and Eurotunnel, including a 15ft-high (5m-high) razor-topped fence, have been put in place.
"Since 21 October ... no migrant has crossed to Britain," she told La Voix du Nord newspaper. "The message we want to convey to migrants is: you must reflect on your path."
"The UK Government has invested tens of millions of pounds to bolster security at the ports in northern France," a spokesperson for the British Home office said. "Critical new security infrastructure is in place at Calais and Coquelles along with hundreds of new French Police officers; additional Border Force contracted search agents and sniffer dogs; and 100 additional Eurotunnel security guards."
As a consequence, migrants have been trying to block traffic on a road neighbouring the jungle camp leading to the ferry terminal in an attempt to raise their chances of stowing away on UK-bound lorries. The first clashes broke out on 8 November as police intervened to clean up the area from objects thrown on the pavement to slow down passing vehicles.
Authorities said some asylum seekers have also trespassed into houses near the "jungle" to fetch items to block traffic. Buccio said the move was unprecedented and extra security forces were going to be deployed in the area. "There have not been physical confrontations but the migrants have often entered the property of community members to get objects to block trucks on the ring-road," she told AFP.
Earlier this week police said they were "worried" about the heated environment. Gilles Debove, the head of a local police union, told Le Figaro. "We are worried, if one day there is a riot in a camp it will be madness."
However, aid workers said authorities are partially to blame for the growing tensions. Maya Konforti, from the humanitarian group L'Auberge des Migrants, told IBTimes UK police have become "more and more aggressive" in recent weeks, even firing tear gas inside the camps. "How can you throw tear gas grenades into the jungle? There are not only men there, there are families," Konforti said.
Some tents reportedly suffered scorch damage from heat and sparks from tear gas canisters fired during the 9 November clashes. "Police came into the camp, halfway up the main drag, and fired tear gas right into the camp," Rowan Farrell, a volunteer from Manchester, England, told AP. "There's more and more desperation in the camp coming to a climax".
Already in January Human Rights Watch published a damning report accusing police of using excessive violence against migrants, an allegation French authorities have denied.