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.


Trump picks ambassador to Canada for UN post

U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft takes part in a meeting with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Trudeau's office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Trump picks ambassador to Canada for UN post

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump announced Friday that he has selected Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to Canada, as his nominee to serve as the next US ambassador to the United Nations.
Trump said in a pair of tweets that Craft “has done an outstanding job representing our Nation” and he has “no doubt that, under her leadership, our Country will be represented at the highest level.”
Two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters had told The Associated Press that Trump had been advised that Craft’s confirmation would be the smoothest of the three candidates he had been considering to fill the job last held by Nikki Haley.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had backed Craft for the post, and she also has the support of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, the people said. Trump’s first pick to replace Haley, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew over the weekend.
Craft, a Kentucky native, was a member of the US delegation to the UN General Assembly under President George W. Bush’s administration. She is also friends with McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and thanked Chao for her “longtime friendship and support” at her swearing-in as ambassador.
As US ambassador to Canada, she played a role in facilitating the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trump had also considered US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and former US Senate candidate John James of Michigan for the post.
Nauert’s withdrawal from consideration came amid a push within the administration to fill the position, given a pressing array of foreign policy concerns in which the United Nations, particularly the UN Security Council, is likely to play a significant role. From Afghanistan to Venezuela, the administration has pressing concerns that involve the world body, and officials said there had been impatience with the delays on Nauert’s formal nomination.
Trump said Dec. 7 that he would pick the former Fox News anchor and State Department spokeswoman for the UN job, but her nomination was never formalized. Notwithstanding other concerns that may have arisen during her confirmation, Nauert’s nomination had languished in part due to the 35-day government shutdown that began Dec. 22 and interrupted key parts of the vetting process. Nauert cited family considerations in withdrawing from the post.
With Nauert out of the running, officials said Pompeo had been keen on Craft to fill the position. Although Pompeo would like to see the job filled, the vacancy has created an opportunity for him and others to take on a more active role in UN diplomacy. On Thursday, for example, Pompeo was in New York to meet with UN chief Antonio Guterres.
Trump has demoted the UN position to sub-Cabinet rank, in a move backed by both Bolton and Pompeo, according to three other officials. Grenell had suggested he wasn’t interested in a non-Cabinet role. The officials were not authorized to discuss internal personnel deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Haley had been a member of the Cabinet and had clashed repeatedly with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others during the administration’s first 14 months. Bolton was not a Cabinet member when he served as UN ambassador in President George W. Bush’s administration, and neither he nor Pompeo is eager to see a potential challenge to their foreign policy leadership in White House situation room meetings, according to the officials.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Craft was appointed ambassador to Canada because of her financial contributions to the Trump campaign, but said that’s not unusual as past ambassadors have also contributed to presidents who have appointed them.
“I think Ottawa has regarded Craft as a light weight, partly because of her background and partly because the sense is that Trump, unlike his predecessors, doesn’t listen to his ambassadors or care what they think,” Wiseman said.
Craft is married to billionaire coal-mining executive Joe Craft, and they are major Republican donors.
Craft has been ambassador during a low point in relations. Last year Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weak and dishonest, words that shocked Canadians.