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French police clash with migrants from North Africa, Syria in Calais

Hundreds of migrants and police have clashed in battles at the port in Calais as a report warns of sharp rise of illegal immigration to Europe
Immigrants receive first aid after docking in Italy on 5 August (AFP)

Dozens of migrants, many fleeing from North Africa and Syria, were wounded on Tuesday in clashes with police at the French port of Calais, as a new report warned of a dramatic rise in illegal immigration to Europe.

Police reinforcements were called in the early hours of Tuesday to break up running battles between hundreds of mainly Eritrean and Sudanese migrants that left 51 people injured.

One man was rushed by helicopter to a nearby hospital with serious head injuries.

This was the second consecutive night of scuffles between rival groups seeking passage to Britain. On Monday night, 13 people were hurt in fights involving around 150 people.

"The fights started after dinner and spread to the port area. They lasted most of the evening and into the night," local police authorities said.

One port worker said around 300 migrants were involved in Tuesday's running battles.

Local authorities estimate the number of migrants currently in Calais at 1,300, a "50 percent increase in a few months", said Denis Robin, the top local official.

Veronique Devise, from the Secours Catholique charity, said the situation in the port city had deteriorated and there was now "a bit of an explosive atmosphere".

"The migrants are so desperate. Sometimes they want to take a lorry by force and head off to England," Devise said.

'Territorial battle'

Devise called for "political action at the European and national level", as a new report showed a nearly 10-fold increase in the number of illegal immigrants making their way to Europe, in many cases taking advantage of growing lawlessness in Libya.

The report by French border police, reported in the daily Le Figaro, said nearly 62,000 illegal immigrants had landed in Italy in the first six months of the year, compared to just under 8,000 in the same period in 2013.

Eritreans made up 31 percent of this total, while people fleeing war-torn Syria accounted for 17 percent.

This has increased the "migratory pressure on the border with Italy", the French report said, adding that 5,200 arrests had been made there so far in 2014.

The interior ministry told AFP that "everything, including a drop in asylum-seekers in France in the first half of 2014, points to the fact that migrants see France as a transit country."

Many of those who land in Italy make their way through France to Calais in a bid to get to Britain. French authorities have arrested 7,500 illegal immigrants attempting to cross the Channel already this year.

Human rights activist Philippe Wannesson said the clashes were a result of a "territorial battle" between groups that would normally leave each other alone as space becomes limited in the port.

The situation was likely to get worse, he warned.

"The number of people coming from Italy after crossing the Mediterranean will continue to increase until at least the autumn," Wanneson said.

Crossing the already perilous sea has become even harder as temperatures drop, he stressed: "The harder it gets to get into England, the more the tensions will rise."

Hundreds of would-be immigrants die in the dangerous Mediterranean crossing every year, while others are detained by Italian police once they reach the southern EU member's territorial waters or the islands of Sicily or Lampedusa.