The Children’s Commissioners for England and France are calling on the French government to ensure that, as a matter of urgency, lone asylum-seeking children in the Calais ‘jungle’ are properly identified, registered and accommodated before the camp is closed by the French authorities. When the camp was razed to the ground earlier this year, 129 children disappeared. Many of these children may have been eligible to join close relatives in the UK under the international Dublin III Agreement.
The call follows the announcement last weekend by the President of France, Francois Hollande, that the Calais refugee camp will be dismantled and replaced by reception and orientation facilities for refugees around the country and measures will be taken to prevent the creation of similar camps.
The Commissioners are asking that the reception and accommodation centres that will be created have special areas and arrangements for receiving and looking after children and young people and for processing those who may be eligible to travel to the UK.
Today, Geneviève Avenard, France’s Children’s Commissioner accompanied Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, on a visit to Kent Intake Unit, the short-term reception centre in Dover for asylum-seekers who have crossed the Channel. In 2015 the unit, which has been in place since the 1990’s, opened dedicated, child-friendly facilities, run by the Refugee Council specifically to receive lone-child asylum seekers when they arrive in the UK.
Anne Longfield said: “The refugee camp in Calais is an incredibly dangerous place for children and there are thought to be between 200 and 400 lone child asylum-seekers there who may be eligible to come to the UK. Whilst I support the move by the French government to close the camp and rehouse those living there in centres around France, this needs to be done in a properly planned way so that the children currently there are protected from harm and do not disappear from the radar of the agencies nor try and make the dangerous trip across the Channel in the back of a lorry.
“Few of the lone child asylum-seekers in the camp who could be eligible to come to the UK are thought to be registered with the French authorities, so I am concerned that they are not being properly protected at the moment.”
The French institution, the Défenseur des droits, is concerned by the forthcoming clearance of the camp and wishes to stress that if it goes ahead, the closure must comply with French and international law. Every child who is currently living there should be provided with appropriate accommodation and therefore closure should not be enforced until the authorities have looked for genuine alternative accommodation. They also have rights to health and education and no evacuation should be carried out without a guaranteed access to schooling and healthcare for the children there.