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Britain ignored plea by France to aid stranded Calais child refugees

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.

Young
Young refugees stuck in the Calais camp play cricket to pass the time. Photograph: Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi for the Observer

As yet only 72 unaccompanied refugee children from Calais have been brought to the UK under a scheme to reunite families under an EU rule known as the Dublin regulation. Even in these cases, charities accuse the Home Office of not helping, saying that the process and legal costs have been paid by voluntary organisations and lawyers working pro bono.

At least 178 unaccompanied children have been identified in the Calais camp as having family ties to the UK, with more than another 200 eligible to come to Britain under a separate scheme, an amendment to the Immigration Act put forward by Lord Dubs. Despite its being passed into legislation on 9 May, the Home Office has not to resettle a single child using the Dubs amendment.

Initial expectations had been that 3,000 vulnerable children would be rescued. With the camps destruction imminent, the Home Office has not attempted to explain what it intends to do about the Dubs children.

The spirit of the Dubs amendment to assist the most vulnerable children in Europe is not being met, says the report.

Another pressing, issue is the provision of safe accommodation for unaccompanied children in the camp. Although it is widely accepted that there are traffickers in the camp, only 50 places for asylum-seeking children are available at nearby French centres.

Alex Fraser, director of refugee support at the British Red Cross, the largest provider of support to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, said: Children, who could be rebuilding their lives in safety with their only surviving relatives, are being left to fend for themselves in conditions unimaginable to most adults.

With the forthcoming evictions in Calais, these bureaucratic problems are now more pressing than ever. We need to see urgency from both the UK and French governments. Children with a legal right to be here should be on the Eurostar across the Channel, not being dispersed somewhere else in France.

A Home Office spokesperson said: It is wholly false to say that we have not accepted responsibility for asylum applications submitted by the French authorities for unaccompanied children with family members in the UK. We have made crystal clear our commitment to fulfilling our obligations under the Dublin regulation.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/08/child-refugees-calais-camp-stranded-britain-ignored-pleas-home-office