Lone children in the Calais Jungle camp risk their lives every night trying to reach the UK partly because official routes take too long, Britain’s anti-slavery commissioner has warned.
Minors are turning to smuggling gangs amid frustration at routes for claiming asylum or joining relatives who are already in this country, Hyland suggested, calling for ministers to step up efforts to address the plight of unaccompanied youngsters in the camp.
In a conclusion that will heap fresh pressure on the Government over the issue, Hyland said frustration with regulations known as the Dublin III procedures “is one of the key motivators behind risk taking behaviour, which leads to higher exposure to modern slavery and exploitation,” The Press Association reports.
A teenage Afghan boy - believed to have a legal right to travel to Britain - died at the weekend as he tried to climb on to the roof of a lorry near Calais.
In a letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Hyland painted a stark picture of the threats faced by children and other vulnerable individuals living in camps such as the Jungle.
“Children are not waiting,” he wrote. “Every night they go to their smugglers who have promised to get them across the Channel.
“Every night they think that this time they will be lucky. However, every night each of these children are at risk of exploitation and sadly even dying as they take huge risks to reach the UK.”
Under Dublin III, asylum claims must be made in the first safe country a person reaches but children can have their claim transferred to another country if they have family living there.
Campaigners have repeatedly called for the process to be sped up so an estimated 185 children believed to be eligible for humanitarian protection in the UK can come here from Calais.
In his letter, Hyland said that not enough is being done to “address the vulnerabilities of migrants, in particular unaccompanied children”.
Hyland said he received a “clear message” that there is “very little confidence in asylum seeking procedures in France”, as well as the Dublin III regulations.
Some people had already applied for asylum in France or family reunification under Dublin III, but “every night they were continuously trying to cross the Channel illegally”.
The letter said: “The waiting time was simply far too long for them. Unfortunately, migrants had more trust in smugglers than in state led procedures that exist to ensure their protection.”
Hyland recounted a story he was told of a woman with two young children who had family in the UK but was afraid to register for asylum in France.
“She viewed her only option as going to smugglers to get herself and her children to the UK,” he said.
He said the Government should provide increased resources - and possibly deploy staff - to quickly identify children who qualify to be reunited with relatives in Britain, or relocated here under another initiative to bring unaccompanied refugee children from Europe.
Hyland also suggested that a fast-track system should be considered.
The commissioner, who visited Calais earlier this year, described living conditions in the camp as “unsuitable and unsafe”.
Groups identified by a project as being at high risk of exploitation and trafficking include young women from countries of the Horn of Africa and Egyptian boys who are forced to steal in Calais town and bring goods back to the camp, according to the letter.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Our priority is to offer humanitarian support to those most in need and we work closely with the French Government to protect those vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.
“We are dedicated to ensuring that children in Calais with family links in the UK are identified, receive sufficient support and can access the Dublin family reunification process without delay.
“Over 120 cases of unaccompanied children in Europe have been accepted for transfer to the UK under the Dublin Regulation since the start of the year and we want to build on this progress.
“We will respond to the commissioner’s recommendations in full, in due course.”