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Aug 22, 2:59 PM EDT

Brawls break out among migrants near French port city Calais



PARIS (AP) -- As many as 200 migrants clashed near the northern French port city of Calais, using sticks and iron bars in five mass brawls that mainly pitted Afghans against Eritreans, authorities said Tuesday.

A total of 21 migrants and six riot police were injured, none seriously, during the clashes that broke out between Monday right and Tuesday afternoon, the Pas-de-Calais prefecture said.

Up to 150 migrants were involved in the last fight, which started on a road leading out of the Calais city center and moved to a highway, the prefecture said. The regional Voix du Nord newspaper said the violent skirmishes held up traffic.

Four other fights began late Monday and continued until dawn as police dispersed the groups with tear gas.

Police detained seven migrants for questioning and put 20 others in administrative detention, meaning they risk expulsion from France, according to the prefecture.

Authorities cleared some 7,000 migrants from a makeshift camp in Calais last fall, but people hoping to enter Britain by crossing the English Channel in trains or ferries are steadily returning. Authorities estimate about 400 migrants are now in the Calais area, while aid groups put the number at about 600.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said three weeks ago that even though there are far fewer migrants in Calais compared to a year ago, 30,000 attempts to sneak into the Eurotunnel complex or onto ferries had been made since the start of 2017. Many of the people on the French side of the Channel make repeated attempts.

The interior minister announced at the end of July that two special centers to shelter migrants in Calais would be opened. However, the shelters for willing occupants are aimed at speeding up assessments of their situations, including whether they are to be expelled from France.

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