Lawyers for a leading UK refugee charity have started legal proceedings against the Home Office, arguing that ministers failed in their obligations to give sanctuary to unaccompanied children seeking asylum in Europe.
The British charity ‘Help Refugees‘ slammed the failure of Home Secretary Amber Rudd to relocate children from a refugee camp in the French city of Calais.
Legal papers state that because of this failure, children were exposed to serious risks of abuse and exploitation.
Concerns are growing about the safety of several hundred unaccompanied refugee children in the unofficial shelter in Calais ahead of its demolition, which is expected to start next week.
The Guardian reports:
Charities are worried that no plans for rehousing the children in safe alternative accommodation have been announced, and that there has so far been no attempt to begin a systematic registration of the children either by the French or the UK authorities.
Although most volunteer groups on the ground support the demolition in the abstract, because camp conditions are so poor, they are worried that an eviction without clear plans for how residents will be relocated could make the situation worse, particularly for the children, some of them as young as eight, who are travelling without parents.
Josie Naughton, co-founder of Help Refugees, said: “We absolutely think that the camp shouldn’t be there and no human being should live in those conditions, but we need to make sure that the French keep their word so that proper alternative accommodation is provided and that the eviction is carried out as humanely as possible.”
Lily Caprani from Unicef UK said: “We are urgently calling for the UK to make sure comprehensive care plans are in place so that frightened children are not scattered by the bulldozers and facing a winter alone without a home. Unless the authorities do the right thing, it is likely many children will now go missing or attempt more dangerous crossings to reach family in the UK.”
Help Refugees’ legal action, which could trigger a judicial review, argues that Rudd has failed in urgent “relocation duties to unaccompanied children in Europe”, particularly under the so-called Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act.
Under this amendment, introduced by Alf Dubs, the Labour peer who arrived in the UK as a Kindertransport child refugee, the government pledged “as soon as possible” to “make arrangements to relocate to the UK” a number of unaccompanied refugee children. Since the act was passed it appears that no children have arrived in the UK under its provisions.
In her speech to the Conservative party conference earlier this week, Rudd set out a commitment to help some of the children in Calais. “There are vulnerable, unaccompanied children in Calais at risk of people-trafficking and abuse,” she said. “Where those children have a relative in the UK, or it is in their best interests to come to the UK, we are doing all we can to bring them over here.”
But Lord Dubs said he was disappointed that the government was muddling its obligation to reunite refugee families. His broader campaign is to persuade the government to take its share of the 80,000 estimated unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Europe, regardless of whether they have relatives in the UK. “I think it is a real cheat,” he said.
Labour MP Stella Creasy, who has tabled an amendment to the government’s child welfare bill, aiming to give young refugees in Calais protection under British safeguarding rules, said she was worried by the slowness of the government’s response.
“Time is running out. Unless we step into the breach it will be a disaster. We haven’t got any more time for saying it is complicated. We need a process now. The government can’t just wait it out and hope the problem goes away,” she said.
Yvette Cooper, chair of Labour’s refugee taskforce, has called for Britain and France to take half the unaccompanied children in Calais each. “The foot-dragging and the buck-passing between the French and British governments over the children in Calais is a disgrace. It is quite incredible that there is only a week to go before the camp is cleared but still no plan for the children who are there alone.”
But concern about the fate of the unaccompanied children in Calais is increasingly cross-party. This week 10 Conservative MPs wrote to Rudd urging her to speed up her response to the crisis. Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe, who did not sign the letter but visited the camp last week, said he was shocked by what he saw.
“Walking around it you have to remind yourself that you are still in Europe and not on the edge of a warzone,” he wrote in a blogpost. “It is clear that no concerted effort has yet been made to find alternative places for the migrants, or to ensure that their asylum claims have been processed.”