Three migrants were killed and one injured after a train in southern France struck them. The migrants were reportedly lying or sleeping on or near the tracks at the time of the incident.
In the early hours of Tuesday, October 12, a train traveling through south-west France struck four people, believed to be migrants. Three died at the scene. At least two of those who died are believed to be of Algerian origin, reported France’s local public broadcaster France Bleu. A fourth is in hospital in a "critical condition," although his life is believed not to be in danger, reported Deutsche Welle (DW).
The French private broadcaster RTL said it believed all those involved were male migrants, and quoted the local public prosecutor as a source. A newspaper, Le Parisien, said that the local mayor of the town of Ciboure, where the incident took place, thought that the migrants were "sleeping or lying" on the tracks as the train arrived. He said that migrants often walked the tracks but that it was "surprising" that they appeared to have been lying down or resting on them.
'A terrible human drama'
The local prosecutor Jerome Bourrier said that the migrants were probably "caught unawares by the first train of the day passing at 3 am," reported Agence France Presse (AFP). The news agency Associated Press (AP) put the time of the incident at "around 5:30 am." According to AP, Bourrier called the incident "a terrible human drama."
Bourrier said that even with the application of the emergency brakes, the driver of the train would not have been able to avoid hitting the four men. Bourrier added that the four victims were Algerian nationals "aged between 21 and 40" reported AFP.
The incident happened near the town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz on a train that traveled between Hendaye, on the coastal border with Spain and Bordeaux in France, a spokesperson for the French train company SNCF told DW.
SNCF has now opened an investigation into the incident after the regional train struck the people in Ciboure, about half a kilometer from Saint-Jean-de-Luz. The incident caused temporary disruption to the service, said the spokesperson, but trains had already resumed by about 8:15 am.
Migrant route between Spain and France
It is an area which is known as a route that migrants travel after they arrive in Spain over the Mediterranean and hope to make it further north towards France, other European countries, or across the Channel to the UK.
According to AFP, the four men are believed to have stayed a while in Spain before heading towards France. At least one of them, said Bourrier, had already been expelled by the Spanish authorities. He told AFP, "it is clear that all the victims are of Algerian origin, and three of them had been subject to procedures in Spain over the irregularity of their presence."
Ciboure’s local mayor, Eneko Aldana-Douat, also said that at least one of the victims was also known to French police, suggesting, reported AFP, that "they had been on French territory for a while."
This is not the first death on the migrant route from Spain towards France. In August, a migrant died whilst trying to swim across the river Bidasoa, which separates France from Spain. This year the numbers of those entering Spain has increased, with more than 16,000 migrants arriving in Spain already in 2021.
Algerian, French tensions
Algerians make up one of the largest migrant groups in France, as the country was a French colony until it gained independence in 1962. Since then there has often been political tension between the two countries, most recently, President Macron announced that he would be reducing the numbers of visas issued to people from its former colonies in north Africa, namely, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
This announcement, towards the end of September, said the French authorities, was in response to the refusal of the Maghreb countries to take migrants back who had been expelled from France and did not qualify for asylum.
On October 3, Algeria recalled its ambassador from France because of the tensions. After reported comments by President Macron about the situation, Algeria said that France was "inadmissably interfering" in its affairs. The comments reported in Le Monde, which were not directly denied by the French President, alleged Macron to have described Algeria as being ruled by a "politically-military system," and had at times "rewritten" its history, according to France 24.