‘Masked gang’ of 7 men arrested near Calais for attacking Iraqi refugees with iron bars

© Pascal Rossignol
Seven masked men mostly from Calais have been arrested by French police on suspicion of attacking Iraqi Kurds with iron bars in a nearby refugee camp. The victims were reportedly waiting by the road to board trucks traveling to the UK.

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The alleged perpetrators, aged between 22 and 44, are accused of attacking four migrants from the Grande-Synthe migrant camp with a mainly Kurdish population near the town of Dunkirk, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region.

According to French media reports, the refugees were waiting by the road, preparing to board vehicles bound for the UK.

The attackers, wearing balaclavas and carrying iron bars, were later located by police near Dunkirk, some 37 kilometers from the port city of Calais.

Prosecutor Eric Fouard told French media that he doesn’t know if those arrested had “carried out previous attacks” against refugees. "This is the first time such a thing happens here [in Dunkirk],” the prosecutor said, adding that the attackers are currently in custody.

The incident is the latest in the series of increased attacks against migrants in the Calais region in recent months, according to Medecins du Monde, a charity group working to improve conditions at refugee camps.

A migrant walks among tents in a muddy field at a camp of makeshift shelters for migrants and asylum-seekers from Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran and Syria, called the Grande Synthe jungle, near Calais, France, February 3, 2016. © Yves Herman

“Tens of people have been beaten up with iron bars in Calais, leaving them with multiple fractures,” Isabelle Bruand, an official with the group, said. “These kind of attacks occurred last summer and in September, but now they are more regular.”

READ MORE: Calais port halts operations after crowd of migrants breaks in & boards UK-bound ferry

Calais region and the city of Calais in particular have become the destination for thousands of migrants trying to enter the UK on trucks. Their attempts at crossing the Channel from France into UK continue to cause problems for the region, such as delays and disruption to train services and truck routes. The port was repeatedly forced to halt its work as police struggled to restore order.

On Saturday, at least 150 people gathered in Calais for an anti-refugee rally despite a protest ban issued by police authorities. The rally was one of many held in 14 European countries, protesting against the influx of Muslim migrants.

The activists were carrying banners saying: “This is our home!" and “Journalists are collaborationists!” as they sang La Marseillaise, the French national anthem.

Police repeatedly instructed demonstrators to disperse, before deploying tear gas. As the crowd broke up, several protesters tangled with police, and about 10 were taken into custody. Among those arrested was Gen. Christian Piquemal, a former commander of the French Foreign Legion, who addressed the rally.

Piquemal’s trial was postponed until May after the 75-year-old was hospitalized, his lawyer said Monday.