21/11/2016 14:21 GMT

Refugee Children Say They'd Be 'Better Off' in Squalid Calais Camp Than New Centres

'Please please take us out of here to the UK'.

Refugee children trying to reach Britain feel they were better off in the squalid Calais camp, amid claims some are being forced to work on fruit farms from their new homes.

The children were moved to reception centres [CAOs] around France after the camp was demolished in October, giving them a roof over their head, hot showers and at least two meals a day.

But Safe Passage, an project to help those with claims to asylum in Britain, said children had absconded from the CAOs and some waiting to come to the UK were considering following.

Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Two orphaned refugees in the Calais camp, before its demolition

A total of 13 of the 33 boys Safe Passage interviewed - more than a third - said they were better off in the squalid camp, where people lived in tents and rudimentary wooden shelters.

Eight reported said they had not been given clean clothes and only five said they had spoken to anyone from the Home Office since arriving in the CAOs.

Three reported being forced to work in fields to pick fruit and three said they were living among adults.

“If others run away I am not going to stay,” one said. Another said: “I am not happy here at staying in this accommodation...

“Please please take us out of here to the UK. No proper food, clothes and I am bored here. If the situation continue like this I may go somewhere else.”

Bishop Paul Butler, from charity Citizens UK, which runs Safe Passage, said: “Children in France are getting increasingly desperate as they hear little from officials, and fill the void with rumours and speculation.

“With children already absconding from the CAOs it is vital that the Home Office speeds up the rate of transfers to the UK.

The 33 boys interviewed were aged 13 to 17 and were Syrian, Afghan, Sudanese, Iraqi and Eritrean.

Two of said they were considering fleeing the centres they were living in. Two who were due to be interviewed already had.

Rabbi Janet Darley, from Citizens UK, said: “We are hugely concerned about the safeguarding of children in the CAOs in France.

“The Safe Passage team have had reports of forced labour and unaccompanied children being made to live with adults.

Thibault Camus/AP
The Calais camp burns during the eviction on October 26

“Although the CAOs are, on the whole, safe places for the children to live, they cannot be used as an excuse to delay the transfer of children to the UK.

“Every day children are separated from their families in the UK, or the opportunity to be placed with foster families, they are missing out on their childhoods.”

Although the CAOs are far safer than Calais, one of the boys interviewed compared his centre to a prison, saying: “Not happy here, it looks like prison, we don’t have any things to play and all the time we staying in our room and it is not safe for us.

“We lives in middle of adults, their ages are over 20 years.”

One of the other boys interviewed said: “I am waiting for my application to succeed in the UK and I am not happy to stay here, I count every day and hours to go to London.”

Both French and British authorities have been criticised for the slow pace of processing childrens’ asylum applications. Citizens UK worked to bring lawyers into the Calais camp to expedite them.

Confusion reigned on the day of the camp eviction in October and hundreds of children were left sleeping rough as authorities’ gave them contradictory information and where to go.

Citizens UK says it has brought 300 children here but 2,000 “remain in legal limbo”. 

It has launched a petition calling for the Home Office to ensure 1,000 of them to are brought to the UK by Christmas.

The Home Office had not responded to request for comment as this story went live.