Uncertainty for remaining Calais kids over UK transfers
France on Tuesday denied reports that Britain has stopped taking in migrant children relocated from Calais, saying London has taken in over 450 minors since the “Jungle” camp was razed and that the transfers were “going well”.
The French interior ministry said Britain had accepted 866 unaccompanied minors since the start of 2016, 468 of whom were whisked across the Channel after the sprawling Jungle was demolished in late October. “The cooperation is going well,” the ministry said, denying reports that Britain had pulled up the drawbridge on children who had travelled to Calais in the hope of reaching England.
French authorities in October cleared the squalid camp near Calais port and moved the thousands of migrants-mostly Afghans, Eritreans and Sudanese-who had been living there to shelters nationwide. They included around 1,900 minors. Britain, which had already begun taking some of the children, assured at the time it would take hundreds more, without committing to an exact figure. Last week, British immigration minister Robert Goodwill said his government had welcomed over 750 children-a figure lower than that given by the French.
A spokeswoman for Britain’s Home Office interior ministry told AFP Tuesday the transfer of Calais children was “continuing” but declined to say how many would be admitted. “The first phase of transfers has concluded but that is not the end of the process. More eligible children will be transferred from across Europe in the coming months,” she said. Of those children given shelter so far, “many” had joined family members, she said.
Last month, Britain tightened the admission criteria for unaccompanied migrant children without family in Britain, saying the child must be 12 or under, or run a high risk of sexual exploitation.
The threshold for Syrian and Sudanese children was lower, with children of up to 15 years declared eligible. A spokeswoman for Safe Passage, a charity that supports refugees coming to Britain, said: “Our understanding is that the transfers have stopped at 750.”
Although the government said the transfers are ongoing, these are on a “child-by-child” basis, the spokeswoman said, with each case potentially taking “months” to process. Before the Jungle was cleared, French President Francois Hollande had appealed to Britain to fulfill its “moral duty” towards migrants trying to reach Britain, where many have contacts or speak the language.
Dozens of migrants have died trying to climb onto trucks heading to Calais port to cross to England. French charities have warned that a closure of Britain’s asylum channels could see children once again put their lives on the line.
Genevieve Jacques, head of the migrant charity Cimade, said she feared they would run away from the migrant shelters back to Calais and called on France to “take a tougher tone” with Britain. France and Britain have tried to make the Calais site less attractive for migrants, erecting a wall that officials said late Monday had been completed.
The four-meter-high (13-foot) wall runs along a kilometer-long stretch of the main road leading to Calais port, next to the area that used to house the sprawling camp. The concrete barrierestimated to cost 2.7 million Euros ($3 million) — aims to prevent new arrivals stowing away on trucks bound for Britain. — AFP