Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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The refugee children

By : Benjamin Hunter

Who were moved out of the Calais Jungle and into French homes are now turning back to Calais A few days ago, a 16-year-old Eritrean refugee named Sami phoned me from a lorry park in Hazebrouck in the North of France. He’d fled the accommodation centre that housed him and made his way back towards Calais, where he’d once lived, with the hope of climbing onto a UK-bound goods truck. In his phone call he begged me to help him reach his uncle in the UK: “Help me. I have been in France too long a time.” He told me he would be sleeping outside in the woods that night. Since then, his phone has been off and I have been unable to contact him. This is the reality facing many of those children still left in France after the eviction of the Jungle camp in Calais at the end of October. For many, settling in France was not something they wanted, and they voluntarily departed to accommodation centres across France, only because they were promised that there they would be fairly considered for transfer to the UK.

For those with close family in the UK, their rights to family reunification are enshrined in EU law, known as the Dublin III regulation. For those without family, an amendment to the Immigration Act known as Dubs (after Jewish refugee and Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs), passed through parliament in May 2016 to allow a number of unaccompanied minors refuge in the UK. Since the eviction of the Calais Jungle, some 500 children have been transferred to the UK from centres in France. But on Friday the transfer of unaccompanied minors to the UK ceased, despite a thousand or more refugee children from Calais still being eligible for transfer. In some cases, the family members of these children in the UK have not even been contacted.

Astoundingly, it appears as if the Home Office believe it to be a “job well done”. Government minister Edward Timpson said on Thursday during a parliamentary debate that the UK has “moved on from Calais operations”. Yet with only 200 unaccompanied children brought to the UK under the Dubs amendment, it appears that the humanitarian efforts of Parliament were undermined at every step by the Home Office. I worked with unaccompanied minors in Calais and I visited many of them in accommodation centres across France after their eviction. These children have already experienced many traumatic experiences in their home countries and the journeys they have made since. Their mental well being and anxieties were visibly worsened by the lack of information they received from the Home Office regarding their transfer to the UK. Children were self-harming with lighters and razors, were hunger striking and threatening suicide. One child told me: “I need my brother. I only want my brother. I will kill myself if I am not with brother.” In 11 out of 12 of the centres I visited, children received no psychological support.

As of yet no information has been shared and no explanation given to children about why their cases have been rejected (not even to the family members waiting patiently for news in the UK). Instead, the job of rejecting kids has fallen to the French authorities, who, fearing the worst reaction from the traumatised teenagers in their care, have in some cases called on French police officers to do the explaining.With their route now blocked, more children will follow those that have already fled, and disappear into French back roads, dodging authorities as they attempt to reach the UK by their own means. As a result of their distress and the lack of information, children have been absconding from centres and returning to the North of France. There children are sleeping outside in the woods and in ditches, attempting to reach the UK at night with the help of people smugglers. Some are refusing the aid offered to them by charities, as they don’t want to risk the attention of the French authorities, who they no longer trust.

In Paris I met with a disabled teenage Eritrean boy with an uncle in the UK, who had left his accommodation centre to sleep on the streets. He told me: “There is nothing happen[ing] in France about going to UK and there is no way to go throughout this process. There is no hope.” He left for the Netherlands, where he knew people who might be able to smuggle him to the UK, but was arrested en route in Belgium. Children are putting their lives at risk only because they have exhausted their options: they were promised help and have been deceived. There is a real risk now that they will simply disappear, or freeze to death as the Winter temperatures drop. The whole process of transferring unaccompanied minors to the UK from Calais has been deeply flawed from its inception. The restricted and arbitrary eligibility guidelines for Dubs, (released to the public by the Home Office only mid-way through the process) when put into practice only looks to assist Sudanese and Syrian children under 15, disregarding the large majority of vulnerable children who are either 16 or 17, or Eritrean, Afghan, Somali or Oromo.

This redefines who is considered a child and discriminates against children based on their nationality rather than considering their best interests first. This was not what was agreed upon by MPs when they voted to approve the transfer of unaccompanied children to the UK, back in March, and it balks in the face of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the coming weeks and months, there will be hundreds of children like Sami the 16-year-old Eritrean, who, upon learning that there is no hope of reaching the UK by legal means, will take the matter into their own hands and instead of refuge, choose climbing onto trucks and homelessness in the winter months.Closed routes and “short term fixes” deny safety to those who come to the shores of Europe carrying only hope on their shoulders. They need safe passage, not pulled drawbridges and state silence. The British government may have “moved on from Calais”, but the children of the Jungle have not.

‘Courtesy The Independent’.




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