Huge fire destroys French migrant camp

TOPSHOT - Firefighters work to extinguish a huge blaze at the Grande-Synthe migrant camp outside the northern French city of Dunkirk on late Monday, reducing it to "a heap of ashes", the regional chief said. (AFP)
Updated 11 April 2017
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Huge fire destroys French migrant camp

GRANDE-SYNTHE, France: A huge fire has destroyed one of the biggest migrant camps in France housing 1,500 people, which started after a brawl involving hundreds of Afghans and Kurds, officials and police said Tuesday.
The Grande-Synthe facility near the northern French port of Dunkirk was the only one in the area and provided hundreds of wooden huts for shelter, as well as cooking facilities and showers.
“There is nothing left but a heap of ashes,” Michel Lalande, prefect of France’s Nord region, told reporters overnight as firefighters battled the flames, which were visible from several kilometers away.
Firefighters said at least 10 people had been injured in the inferno, which followed an outbreak of fighting that required riot police to intervene.
The scale of the destruction became clear in the morning, with only 70 out of 300 huts and a handful of communal buildings still intact. The others were smoldering embers or burned beyond repair, along with their contents.
The camp, built by the humanitarian group MSF (Doctors Without Borders), opened in March 2016 over the objections of the central government, which announced plans to close it in March.
For more than a decade France’s northern coast has been a magnet for refugees and migrants trying to reach Britain, causing tension between the two neighbors.
“There must have been fires deliberately set in several different places, it is not possible otherwise,” said Olivier Caremelle, chief of staff of Grande-Synthe Mayor Damien Careme, an environmentalist who supported the building of the camp last year.
“It seems that it is related to fights between Iraqis and Afghans,” he said.
One resident, Emal, told AFP that the fighting had started after a football match between Afghans when the ball struck a Kurd from Iraq “who insulted the Afghan people.”
The Afghans tried to catch him but he managed to escape before returning with a gang of armed friends, Emal said.
A police source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there had been several bouts of fighting which culminated in a massive brawl involving around 600 people at 9:30 p.m. (1930 GMT) Monday.
Lalande said the fighting had left six injured with knife wounds.
The loss of the camp left local authorities scrambling to find alternative accommodation for the residents, most of whom were fleeing war or poverty in the Middle East or Afghanistan.
Around half of the residents were hastily lodged in public gymnasiums overnight.
Local association Auberge des Migrants warned that it had been unable to find many minors who were previously in the camp.
“Our volunteers were telling us that there had been tensions for weeks linked to the overpopulation of the camp,” Auberge des Migrants Vice President Francois Guennoc said.
The number of people in the Grande-Synthe camp had swelled since the destruction last October of the squalid “Jungle” camp near Calais, about 40 kilometers away.
“Since the closure of Calais, there isn’t any other reception center on the coast,” said Guennoc.
According to several witnesses, disagreements arose after an increase in the number of Afghans who arrived from the “Jungle” camp.
“I thought it was normal that the Kurds were here, it was their camp, and we (Afghans) had Calais,” Emal said. “But Calais doesn’t exist any more.”
The Afghans were apparently unhappy at being put up in the communal kitchens while the Kurds slept in chalets, local sources said.
The brawl was the latest in several violent incidents at the camp, with police intervening last month after five men were injured in a fight. Another man was stabbed in November.
Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux announced plans to close the camp in March, citing public order problems.
The government also believes the camps encourage people to travel to northern France where they seek to break into trucks heading to Britain or pay smugglers to help them get across the Channel.
Migrants have been encouraged to register asylum applications in France, but many are determined to travel to Britain for family or language reasons, or because they believe work opportunities are more plentiful in Britain.
Repeated break-ins around ports in northern France have caused delays to travelers and truck drivers. Local residents have also complained about the damage done to the image of their area.


Man who killed newlywed during robbery executed in Texas

Alvin Braziel appears in a booking photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Austin, Texas, US, December 10, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 12 December 2018
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Man who killed newlywed during robbery executed in Texas

  • The Whites, who had only been married 10 days, didn’t have any money on them but told Braziel they could get him some and they started walking back to their truck

HUNTSVILLE, Texas: A Texas inmate was executed Tuesday evening for fatally shooting a newlywed during a robbery more than 25 years ago.
Alvin Braziel Jr., 43, received lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville for the 1993 slaying of 27-year-old Douglas White, who was attacked as he and his wife walked on a jogging trail.
Braziel became the 24th inmate put to death this year in the US and the 13th executed in Texas, the nation’s busiest capital punishment state. He will be the last Texas inmate executed this year.
The execution was delayed about 90 minutes after the six-hour window defined by the warrant began at 6 p.m. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected a last-minute appeal from Braziel’s attorneys.
As Douglas and Lora White walked along a community college jogging trail in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite, Braziel jumped out from behind some bushes with a pistol in his hand and demanded money.
The Whites, who had only been married 10 days, didn’t have any money on them but told Braziel they could get him some and they started walking back to their truck. But Braziel became angry with the couple and ordered them to the ground.
“Doug ... was praying, asked God to forgive him and Lora their sins because they both knew that this was it,” said Michael Bradshaw, the lead detective on the case for Mesquite police. “The last thing Doug said before Braziel fired the first round, he said, ‘Please God, don’t let him hurt Lora.’“
Braziel shot White once in the head and once in his heart.
Bradshaw said he believes Braziel would have also shot then-24-year-old Lora White but his gun malfunctioned. Braziel instead took her to bushy area near the trail and sexually assaulted her.
Douglas White’s murder was featured on the television show “America’s Most Wanted” and a $20,000 reward was raised by the chiropractic college he had worked for as an electrician. Bradshaw said more than 40 potential suspects were interrogated and had their blood drawn for testing.
But White’s murder remained unsolved for over seven years.
“I really didn’t know that I would ever be able to solve it. But I really did not give up hope,” said Bradshaw, 63, who retired from Mesquite police in 2012.
Braziel was eventually tied to the killing in 2001 after he was imprisoned for sexual assault in an unrelated case and his DNA matched evidence from Lora White’s assault.
At his trial, Braziel said he wasn’t near the college during the killing.
Braziel’s attorneys didn’t immediately reply to emails and calls seeking comment on Tuesday.
Last week, his lawyers asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to stop his execution, arguing in part he should not receive lethal injection because he is intellectually disabled.
The Supreme Court held in 2002 that people convicted of murder who are intellectually disabled cannot be executed.
Braziel’s attorneys later withdrew their request.
Courts had previously turned down Braziel’s appeals that have focused on claims of mental illness and that he had suffered a childhood brain injury, saying Braziel refused to be examined by a mental health expert during his trial and that his family declined to help his defense attorneys obtain evidence of any mental health problems in Braziel’s family.
His attorneys also filed a last-minute appeal Tuesday, arguing that an emotional outburst at the 2001 murder trial from Lora White was unfairly elicited by prosecutors when she was shown on the witness stand a photo of her husband’s autopsied body.
Bradshaw said he still keeps in contact with Lora White and that she started a new life and is doing well.
“Lora wants it known that she’s prayed for Alvin Braziel and his family,” Bradshaw said.