Home Office delayed action on French requests to accept 400 eligible lone children, says Red Cross
The Home Office has refused to respond to official requests from the French authorities to accept unaccompanied child refugees stranded in Calais who are eligible to come to Britain, the British Red Cross has said.
With the planned demolition of Calaiss refugee camp only weeks away, the Red Cross says the Home Office is turning down take charge requests by the French on often pedantic grounds. Once such a request has been accepted by the UK government it is in effect responsible for a child who is seeking asylum.
In some cases British officials claim to have misplaced requests from the French to help children, raising questions over Britains approach to what humanitarian experts call an urgent child protection issue. The camp is scheduled to be demolished this month, with no provision agreed by the British and French for most of the 1,000 unaccompanied minors there, of whom at least 400 are eligible to enter the UK.
A new report damningly articulates the Home Offices intransigence, with research by the Red Cross revealing it takes up to 11 months on average to bring a child to the UK under an EU scheme to reunite families. Lawyers say there is no reason why the process should take more than several weeks.
The report also identifies problems ranging from basic administrative errors causing severe delays to a shortage of human resources on the French side. It accuses the Home Office of unnecessarily forcing vulnerable children to stay in the camp for months after their case is rejected because of a basic administrative error or lack of documents.
Insufficient discretion or consideration is made for the childs vulnerability and circumstances, says the report, No Place For Children, released on Sunday.
Despite more than a record 10,000 refugees being stranded in the Calais camp, the report found that in August the French had only three ad hoc administrators and one coordinator, all volunteers, to identify and start processing the claims of unaccompanied minors.
The Red Cross recommends that UK officials should be based in Calais to help identify and process cases as a matter of urgency. At the start of last week, the Home Office had yet to send an official delegation to identify eligible child refugees and assist their claims. Sourceson Saturday, however, said that UK government officials had finally started to completely understand the urgency of the eviction, particularly after 129 child refugees went missing following a partial eviction of the site in February.
Karl Pike of the British Red Cross said: The eviction is really concentrating minds. The Home Office is aware of how badly it went last time, with children going missing.
Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of Labours Refugee Taskforce, urged Britain and France to immediately agree to each accept 500 of the Calais children. She said: The situation has been urgent for months and now we are reaching crisis point the political stalemate between Paris and London has to stop. As the French government prepares to clear the camp at Calais, thousands of vulnerable child refugees will be put at risk if there is no plan in place to get them to a safe home.