Lon­don bor­ough opens doors to ‘Jun­gle’ mi­grant chil­dren

A new life in UK for un­ac­com­pa­nied young­sters

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -


Hor­ri­fied by the des­per­ate plight of trau­ma­tized chil­dren in the “Jun­gle” mi­grant camp in France, one Lon­don bor­ough is seek­ing to pro­vide a new life in Bri­tain for un­ac­com­pa­nied young­sters. As bull­doz­ers raze the sprawl­ing camp in the north­ern French port city of Calais this week, bus­loads of chil­dren have been ar­riv­ing in Bri­tain. With the UK promis­ing to take in hun­dreds more, local au­thor­i­ties face the chal­lenge of re­set­tling these young­sters-many of whom have fled war and poverty in coun­tries like Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan. But me­dia re­ports say one in four local au­thor­i­ties have re­fused to take in any chil­dren of the Jun­gle.

One Lon­don bor­ough, Ham­mer­smith and Ful­ham, has been at the fore­front of ef­forts to bring them to Bri­tain un­der the so-called Dubs Amend­ment passed in May, vow­ing to ac­com­mo­date 15 in to­tal. While chil­dren with fam­ily ties in Bri­tain have the right to claim asy­lum here, the Dubs leg­is­la­tion al­lows vul­ner­a­ble young­sters with no such ties to seek refuge. Tak­ing 15 of the 1,500 chil­dren housed tem­po­rar­ily in ship­ping con­tain­ers in the Jun­gle may not seem like many. But Ham­mer­smith and Ful­ham hopes its ex­am­ple will en­cour­age other local au­thor­i­ties to fol­low suit, as Paris and Lon­don squab­ble over who is to blame for their plight.

‘Driven mad by fear’

Stephen Cowan, the bor­ough council’s leader, vis­ited Calais in Au­gust with other Lon­don of­fi­cials and was shocked by what he saw. “You had this acute urine stench that hit you in the back of the throat,” he said, de­scrib­ing the “dusty, in­tim­i­dat­ing en­vi­ron­ment”. One child in par­tic­u­lar struck him: a nineyear-old boy from Afghanistan who was “shiv­er­ing” de­spite the sum­mer heat.

“He looked over­come with stress. I asked the in­ter­preter why he was shiv­er­ing and he said: ‘This boy has been driven mad by fear’.” The boy told Cowan: “I want some­where where I will be safe at night and I will not be hurt any­more.” Moved by the ex­pe­ri­ence, Cowan pledged that his plush west Lon­don bor­ough would find homes for such vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren-though not all res­i­dents have sup­ported the ini­tia­tive. A week be­fore the camp was razed, the bor­ough al­lowed 13 so­cial work­ers to go to Calais to as­sess the needs of un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors.

Chaos and tears

So­cial worker Re­becca Harvey re­called “chaotic” scene on ar­riv­ing the day af­ter po­lice used tear gas dur­ing clashes at the camp. She and her col­leagues worked with an in­ter­preter to take down key de­tails: where the chil­dren were from, their state of mind and health, and hopes for the fu­ture. One 13-year-old boy said he had left his home in Afghanistan af­ter his fa­ther was be­headed and his mother shot dead in front of him by ji­hadists.

At the camp, “he was liv­ing in a tent with a man he didn’t know and cry­ing all the time. “He said he just thought every day ‘maybe it would be bet­ter if I threw my­self un­der a truck and I didn’t have to suf­fer any­more’,” Harvey said. “His story was not unique by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion.” Since mid-Oc­to­ber, more than 200 chil­dren have ar­rived in Bri­tain from Calais and more trans­fers are due in the com­ing days, the Home Of­fice in­te­rior min­istry says. French In­te­rior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has said all mi­nors “with proven fam­ily links in Bri­tain” will even­tu­ally be trans­ferred there, and that Lon­don has com­mit­ted to re­view­ing all other cases where it is “in the child’s in­ter­est” to set­tle across the Chan­nel. —


Shoes lay aban­doned in the en­trance­way of a tent in the makeshift mi­grant camp known as ‘the jun­gle’ near Calais, north­ern France. —

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