THE BLOG

Devastation For Children In Dunkirk

12/04/2017 16:45
Pascal Rossignol / Reuters

In Dunkirk we saw another refugee camp burn down containing children alone and afraid. This violence and devastation is a needless repeat of what we have seen in Calais and Greece before. Again, overcrowded and unsafe conditions put children in unnecessary danger. Again, many of these children were going through a legal process which meant they shouldn't have been in that camp at all, but safe with their family in the UK. Again, we risk losing these children as they fail to find safe accommodation and instead are taken elsewhere by traffickers.

Luckily, it seems there were no fatalities this time, but until the UK acts with a proper system to help get these children safe this could easily happen again and again.

Interviews we conducted with unaccompanied children in this camp in March, and to be released soon, show the awful circumstances from which the fire came about. This Dunkirk settlement is a violent place, controlled by traffickers in pitiful, cramped conditions. Children should not have even ended up there. The children we spoke to told us that they were so scared, along the route to Dunkirk, by the way they were treated by the authorities that they could not turn to them for information and protection. So they turned to - and were abused by - smugglers and traffickers who were offering information and apparent protection.

According to the law, children with family in the UK should be able to be safely transferred to them long before making the journey to France. However, most the children don't know this. Despite frequent contact with authorities in European countries on their journey towards the UK, the children we spoke to were never told about their legal right to protection, including their right to be safely reunited with their family members.

In fact, at the moment our rules for getting these children from the danger they have fled to the safety of their family first require children to make the crossing themselves into Europe, on those mortally dangerous boats into Greece and Italy. This forces children into the hands of smuggling and trafficking networks in order for them to reach safety. When we leave the EU it is possible that even this process, known as the Dublin system, will be lost to the children and they will have to make the entire journey without legal help and criminal gangs their only option.

With the embers of the fire in Dunkirk still glowing, now is the time for our Home Office to act to ensure children are protected by our laws and kept away from smugglers and traffickers. The horror faced by children in these awful camps can be ended by changing our Immigration Rules to ensure there is a sustainable legal process for getting children to the safety of their extended family in the UK when they are forced to leave their home. Without this, children will continue to face harrowing journeys, exposed to traffickers and criminal gangs, their future marginalised by danger.

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