This day sees one year since the demolition of the Calais camp known as the ‘Jungle’ which provided shelter for approximately 10,000 people. On the last count, 1,290 of those were unaccompanied minors.
The razing of the camp was the right thing to do for the sake of a dignified and humane existence for all who found themselves there. This was the sentiment for many who anticipated that a productive dialogue between the British and French authorities could be opened and for tangible change to improve the situation of many minors. Sadly, we remember this day last year vividly for the complete and unwavering disarray which surrounded the deconstruction of the camp. It took approximately a week to tear down the camp which had become a home to an exponentially increasing number of lone children. Daily dangers to children ranged from poor sanitation conditions; food insecurity; poor access to health care, legal advice and information along with exposure to sexual exploitation and abuse, human trafficking and being subject to police violence.
The planning around the demolition was at best shambolic and at worst neglectful of the needs of children resulting in them being put at increased risk of the most violent dangers for the duration of the demolition. Those more inclined toward finding the positives could argue ‘the best was made of a difficult situation’. It can’t be doubted that the demolition and relocation of 10,000 people would take some planning, however, the conditions for unaccompanied minors are certainly no better one year on. Authorities and National Governments have had 365 day (less parliament closure for summer breaks) to find a real solution for the most vulnerable of children.
On this day, now: Children are facing poor sanitation conditions; food insecurity; poor access to health care, legal advice and information along with exposure to sexual exploitation and abuse, and human trafficking and being subject to police violence on a daily basis. The Copy and Paste function saves time in explaining the living conditions now… on this day, one year on. Only we now add that children are sleeping under bridges, in woodland and in some cases in open air spaces. Ironically, the camp would provide security from the the very people who are privileged enough to represent safety and security for the French State. With nowhere to hide, children are in a constant game of ‘cat and mouse’ with various factions of the Police forces. Excessive use of force, indiscriminate use of tear gas, and incidents that can be accurately described as ‘assault’ are reported regularly to child protection professionals working on the ground in Calais.
A good proportion of the time interacting with minors sees RYS staff encouraging minors to seek protection in France. When the response from children is ‘France is no good’ it’s impossible to argue with them; their only experiences of this beautiful and elegant country are the very worst it has to offer.
Those who are privileged enough to hold decision making positions in the United Kingdom are not devolved of responsibility through circumstance that these children are held away by 26 miles of water. In March 2016, the Dubs Amendment cited 3000 spaces to be made available to the most vulnerable children moving through Europe. A lethargic and lacklustre approach to facilitating those transfers led to lengthy waits for children who had already been residing in the camp for up to a year. This approach undoubtedly contributed to the factors leading to the deaths of at least 2 children who had the legal right to be in the U.K. and were waiting for the completion of the process.
The United Kingdom has a proud tradition of providing sanctuary for those most in need. The erosion of this tradition was accelerated by the prejudicial Dubs Amendment criteria, introduced in the lead up to the camp demolition last year. Criteria which eliminates children of certain ages and nationalities and denies them their right to seek asylum and have their cases assessed to determine the best interest of individuals.
Thankfully, approximately 550 children were successfully transferred to the U.K. in the two weeks leading up to the demolition. However, in the weeks following the demolition of the camp the Government diluted their promise and announced only a further 150 places for vulnerable unaccompanied children would be found. Shamefully short of the 3000 places pledged.
The process to enable children who are fleeing war, persecution and poverty to legally transfer to the United Kingdom has not improved since the demolition. The same laissez-faire approach to the safety of children has been re-instated and is neglectful of Children with a legal right to be in the United Kingdom under it’s own legislation. Children are loosing faith in the adults who have pledged, through international legal instruments, to protect them.
On this day, one year on, we hope that on this day one year from now, we will not need the Copy and Paste function to describe the conditions. We hope we can say that children are no longer at risk from poor sanitation conditions; food insecurity; poor access to health care, legal advice and information along with exposure to sexual exploitation and abuse, and human trafficking. On this day, one year from now, unaccompanied children will have access to safe and legal passage to the United Kingdom. They will be filling spaces that Governments on both side of the channel have created for them in our societies.
On this day, one year from now, unaccompanied children in Northern France will be respected and protected. Because they are children.
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité