Campaigners working in Calais have said the Government’s sudden decision to stop taking in lone child refugees is “shameful” and “cruel”, as they share heartbreaking accounts of those whose lives the decision affects.
The Home Office announced this week that it is to end support for the Dubs Amendment, a legislative clause tabled by Labour peer and former refugee Lord Dubs which required unaccompanied minors be accepted into Britain.
The decision came as migrants have begun returning to Calais after the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp, where thousands had gathered trying to reach Britain, was demolished in October.
While the halt to the Dubs scheme provoked outrage, volunteers and workers helping child refugees have told The Huffington Post UK that many left without shelter could perish while trying to survive on the streets.
Their distressing accounts reveal:
As many as 50 unaccompanied refugee children are arriving in the French port town of Calais each day;
Children as young as eight have been left “bewildered” by myriad legal processes complicating their bids for refuge - with some minors having considered suicide as their ordeal drags on;
Children are now at real risk of trafficking and face a lack of food, shelter and access to medical facilities;
Allegations the Home Office has failed to properly process applicants via the Dubs Amendment, prompting a legal challenge in the courts;
And claims of police incompetence in France leaving vulnerable children without a legal right to protection.
“A lot of the unaccompanied minors have just been simply removed and relocated into centres around France,” Lliana Bird, co-founder of charity Help Refugees, said. “We have reports many of these young people are suffering, some have considered suicide. Many of them have been let down.”
While Help Refugees has expanded rapidly to meet demand beyond Calais and into Europe, particularly Greece, the northern French port town continues to require help for newcomers fleeing conflict and poverty.
Since the destruction of ‘The Jungle’ refugee camp, campaigners on the ground have said that those who were evicted have become disillusioned with French processes.
Sue Jex, a trustee of charity Care4Calais, told HuffPost UK both child and adult refugees have been left in limbo by authorities.
“Now that we are four months later, there are people who are getting frustrated with a lack of activity in the [refugee reception] centres and are making their way back to Calais,” she said. “On average probably about 20 or 30 a day are arriving.”
On average probably about 20 or 30 a day are arriving.
“It is more difficult without a camp for the refugees,” she added. There isn’t the infrastructure that there was.”
MPs said on Thursday the figure was now as high as 50 unaccompanied minors arriving each day.
Benny Hunter, a volunteer and blogger, has been on the ground in Calais often over the past year.
Returning four months since the eviction at The Jungle, he told HuffPost UK there had been a worrying change among the refugees he saw.
The majority of people who are here are children, unaccompanied minors.
“It is now a completely different situation now there is no longer a camp,” he said. “There’s no kind of central place where people are congregating but there are some more hidden areas that people are staying.”
“Overwhelmingly the majority of people who are here are children, unaccompanied minors,” he added.
Hunter alleged French authorities were failing unaccompanied minors on a daily basis.
“There’s a huge problem with children saying they want state protection,” he said. “The process is [for them] to go to the police and say they want state protection. But the police are instead taking them to the station and then being told to leave. They are being neglected unlawfully.”
“With the dismantling of The Jungle, the situation was given a face lift,” Hunter added. “There was no effort by the British government to change the reality of the situation for children.”
And Bird agreed. “The reasons that people were in Calais have not been addressed,” she said. “People hoping to go to England to reunite with family are not being given their legal right to do so and they will continue to come back and try again.”
“The problem has not gone away,” she added.
Ultimately, many of the children are simply confused by what is happening, according to campaigners.
“They were put onto the buses [in October] and went to the French reception centres and were told they would have access to both French and British facilities to make their case,” Jex said.
“After that the British government decided they weren’t going to proceed with that. The children said they felt let down by the process they were told to follow,” she added.
Yet the announcement to end the Dubs Amendment this week came with the news that just 350 children will have arrived under the scheme, little more than 10% of the 3,000 suggested by then Prime Minister David Cameron when it was passed.
A legal challenge was brought on Friday in which the Home Office was accused of failing to implement the Dubs Amendment properly. It was called before this week’s decision.
“We question the numbers taken under Dubs as many of those accepted already had family in the UK and thus a legal right to come,” Bird said. “They were called Dubs children but actually many of them were under family reunification.”
“It is absolutely shameful,” Bird added. “There is no need to close the scheme, it should continue in consultation with local authorities [which accommodate refugees]. They are able to determine how many places they have.”
“Just this morning a councillor from Lewisham said there are 24 spaces in Lewisham Council ready and waiting with the funding available for refugee children,” she said. “What is Amber Rudd going to tell the three-hundred and fifty-first child?”
“We are saddened and dismayed at this news which leaves children unsupported and with nowhere to go,” Jex said. “These children are at real risk of trafficking and face huge challenges with a lack of food, shelter and access to medical facilities.”
“I think it’s despicable and cruel,” Hunter said.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has answered criticism of the decision this week, telling Parliament that continuing with the Dubs scheme would be a “pull factor” for migrants.
“Perhaps [children are returning to Calais] because they think they could continue to go to the UK. Does it help them? It does not,” Rudd said. “What would help those children is if they could have their claims processed in France.”
On Friday, the UK Home Office issued a statement which said: “We are not giving up on vulnerable children who are fleeing conflict and danger.
“Thanks to the goodwill of the British public and local authorities in the last year alone, we have provided refuge or other forms of leave to more than 8,000 children.
“Our commitment to resettle 350 unaccompanied children from Europe is just one way we are helping. We have a proud history of offering protection to those who need it.”
HuffPost UK has contacted the French interior ministry for comment.