Young refugees dream of Bri­tain

Jamaica Gleaner - - INTERNATIONAL NEWS -

CALAIS (AP): THE FRENCH gov­ern­ment has an­nounced plans to shut down the Calais refugee camp that has be­come a de­mor­al­is­ing sym­bol of Europe’s mi­grant cri­sis by the end of the year.

That means 6,000 to 10,000 migrants will need to be re­lo­cated, in­clud­ing up to 1,300 mi­nors, ac­cord­ing to dif­fer­ent es­ti­mates from char­i­ties op­er­at­ing in the camp.

Many refugee chil­dren in Calais claim to have fam­ily ties in the UK and don’t even con­sider build­ing their fu­ture in France. Jonny Wil­lis, a vol­un­teer from the French refugee and youth ser­vice, says the camp’s ap­palling liv­ing con­di­tions and poor hy­giene have been strong de­ter­rents.

“They went through a ter­ri­ble ex­pe­ri­ence here,” said Wil­lis. “They have been treated so badly by po­lice. This camp lacks ba­sic ser­vices, in ad­di­tion there is no se­cu­rity.”

An Afghan teenager named Wasaal has stopped try­ing to sneak on to trucks to Bri­tain. In­stead, he’s had his fin­ger­prints taken as part of his re­quest for asy­lum.

“I tried it more than 10 times over the past seven months,” he said. “But I’m not do­ing it any­more. I’m in the process of be­ing re­united with my un­cle and cousins. I don’t how long it will take, it’s for the Home Of­fice to de­cide.”

Bri­tain’s Home Of­fice says small groups of refugee chil­dren have been com­ing in on a weekly ba­sis for the last few months and hun­dreds are now ex­pected to cross the Chan­nel legally be­fore the Calais camp is de­stroyed.

In­side the Kids Cafe, a place where teenagers can re­lax and en­joy a free meal, Wasaal and a dozen other boys are lis­ten­ing to mu­sic while play­ing pool. The so­fas are worn out, but a poster of a red Bri­tish dou­bledecker bus re­minds ev­ery­one that London is just a few miles away. After a per­ilous three­month jour­ney across coun­tries, in­clud­ing Syria, Turkey and Ser­bia, Wasaal can’t wait for his Bri­tish dream to come true.

“Here, I’m just wast­ing my time,” the teenager said in flu­ent English. “We are too busy deal­ing with daily life prob­lems. We can’t think prop­erly. I left be­cause my fam­ily was in dan­ger,” said the boy, who fled Kun­duz prov­ince in north­ern Afghanistan. Wasaal has lost touch with his par­ents but his hopes are sim­ple: re­ceiv­ing a proper ed­u­ca­tion in a safe en­vi­ron­ment.

Aid groups agree the Calais slum must be shut down, but are urg­ing au­thor­i­ties to take their time. The refugee youth ser­vice has handed mo­bile phones to hun­dreds of chil­dren and col­lected in­for­ma­tion to make sure they won’t go miss­ing when the camp is dis­man­tled.

Ten­sions have been grow­ing amid the loom­ing un­cer­tainty. It’s only a mat­ter of weeks be­fore all the Calais migrants will be de­ported, trans­ferred to Eng­land or re­lo­cated to more than 160 cen­tres around France. One Bri­tish char­ity has warned of pos­si­ble suicide at­tempts from des­per­ate migrants. But new migrants are still ar­riv­ing.

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