Three Nigerian migrants have died over the weekend in a fire in the southern French city of Marseille. Panicking, they jumped out of windows of the public housing building where they were squatting, officials said. A young child was taken to a hospital in serious condition.
On Saturday (July 17) shortly after 5 a.m, a fire in a building in the housing estate "Les Flamants" in Marseille killed three men aged between 20 and 30 of Nigerian nationality.
A two-year-old and an adult were also seriously hurt in the blaze inside the ten-floor building, where migrants from Nigeria are known to squat, the public prosecutor of Marseille said. The child was very seriously burned. Nine other people reportedly sustained less serious injuries.
The three victims, apparently desperate amid the flames spreading in the building, jumped out of windows. Knotted bed sheets hung from the facade, according to the AFP news agency.
The fire spread quickly through the technical shafts, but did not reach the apartments which are "free of smoke penetration," the public prosecutor said during a press briefing.
Tensions between migrants and drug traffickers
"The existence of two fires, one on the sixth floor, the other in the stairwell" prompted investigators to launch a criminal investigation, the public prosecutor added.
The Nigerian community of Marseille accused drug dealers of causing the tragedy. "The dealers terrify us. They have guns. They prevent us from sleeping," Azeke Endurance, 30, told AFP. According to the police prefect, Frederique Camilleri, there indeed is "a notorious degree of drug dealing here" as well as "tensions between the inhabitants and the traffickers."
Echoing Camilleri's statement, Laurens, the public prosecutor, also described the situation on the ground as "extremely tense". The prices of drugs are written on the walls in the stairwell of the building, he said.
A 31-year-old Nigerian man had been living there for a year with his wife, now six months pregnant. Every month, the couple had to pay illegal rent to drug dealers who deal in the building.
"Sometimes they would hit my wife because they came to collect the money. Sometimes they would take €200, sometimes €300," the asylum seeker told France Bleu radio network. "If you tell them you don't have money, they hit you several times." The man has decided to sleep in the streets with his pregnant wife where it's "less dangerous than the squat."
'A very worrying situation'
The dilapidation of the building, which was set to be demolished, is apparent. "The situation was very worrying", said Lionel Royer-Perreault, president of public housing management company Habitat 13, which owns the building. He said the building in its entirety was not subject to any danger. At the time of the fire, there were a total of 14 legal tenants in the building and only one in the part that burned.
According to a statement by Marseille's city hall, "91 people, including 28 women and 27 children, were taken by municipal services to two gymnasiums for emergency shelter" Saturday evening. The officials called on the state "to offer dignified accommodation to all affected people."
"Marseille politicians faced accusations of ignoring warnings about unsafe housing in 2018, when eight people were killed when two buildings collapsed in the center of the port city," AFP reported.
In recent months, numerous fires also broke out in migrant camps across Europe, totally or partially destroying living spaces. Although some of these fires are caused by arson attacks, the majority are accidental, say the NGOs involved.
This piece is based on an article by InfoMigrants French.