Children left in limbo as Calais ‘Jungle’ is demolished
With 1,400 minors still at the migrant camp waiting to be relocated, pressure is building up
French policemen guard a track as children ride their bicycles in the “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais, northern France. The Dáil is preparing to debate a motion on Wednesday calling on the Government to relocate 200 unaccompanied children from Calais to Ireland. Photograph: Francois Nascimbeni/AFP/Getty Images
Dozens of teenagers were preparing to sleep in the undergrowth by a dirt road on the outskirts of the French port of Calais on Saturday night.
They are among the estimated 1,400 unaccompanied minors still at the site of the migrant camp known as the “Jungle”, which has been almost demolished by French authorities.
As temperatures fell to about 8 degrees and a heavy fog fell, some of the children were dressed only in jeans, hoodies and flip-flops.
Alawi (16), from Deirezor in Syria, gestures to a mattress and blankets he has hidden in the bushes. With a smile he says he has been in Calais “almost a year”.
“I have a friend from Kuwait, he is Bedouin, and we sleep in the same place. I want to go to London,” he says. “I want to be a footballer. I’ll play for any team that accepts me. I am good.”
He is one of about 300 children who have been identified by British authorities as eligible for relocation there, under the controversial “Dubs” amendment to the Immigration Act, brought about by Labour peer Lord Dubs, which allows vulnerable children leave to remain in Britain despite having no family there.
However, Alawi has heard nothing since being interviewed some weeks ago and is increasingly anxious. He approaches a translator to ask for advice. The translator takes his number, promising to find out what she can.
His story is one of dozens heard during the day, where children as young as 10 asked The Irish Times did we know what was happening, when could they get to Britain, could we take them to Ireland.
The road where many were bedding down runs along the fenced-in site where over 100 shipping containers house most of the children. A security office guards the entrance, which is gained only by those children registered to be there.
Mohammed (17), from Sudan, feels increasing hopeless about his situation. He has suffered torture and forced labour during his journey to Calais, but now fears for his future.
“I am sleeping a lot by the day. Sleep is better because when I wake I am forced to look at the reality.” He hopes to get to Britain, but says “anywhere would be 100 per cent better than here”.
Leletishi (15) and Aziza (17), from the Oromo community of Ethiopia, are among the teenage girls being housed in a site adjacent to the container site. Bright, smiling, quite shy, they too want to get to Britain. Leletishi wants to study medicine, Aziza wants to make money to send home to her younger siblings. They had travelled through Egypt to Italy, and survived their boat sinking in the Mediterranean.
“We haven’t lived through all of this suffering to accept to live like this. We want to study and work.”
Gráinne Hasset, an Irish architect who has been back and forth from Calais since summer last year, describes a “rising anxiety” among the young people which she says is “becoming a pressure cooker”.
“We know many are sleeping out on the roads at night. They are not getting access to services, to education. Some have phones and some don’t and feel very isolated and anxious and unable to get information.”
While British authorities had agreed to take about 300, almost all the 1,400 children believe they can go there, she says. “No one has really broken it to them that they won’t be going.”
Empty the containersAfghanistan
“There is huge anxiety in these children who have already been through so much,” said Hassett.
There are also families with very young children. Fatima, from Darfur in Sudan, is with her seven children, aged between two and 11. They sleep in a tent. Her oldest daughter was gang-raped aged 13 by the Janjaweed militia and died some days after. Her husband, brother and parents were murdered. She has a brother in England but says she is being “discouraged” by authorities from getting to him, and encouraged to “give up” and seek French asylum.
“Sometimes God gives you too much to bear.”
She has twice tried getting onto trucks to cross the English channel illegally, but with the children “it is impossible”. They are “exhausted and need a solution,” she says.
As the Dáil prepares to debate a motion on Wednesday calling on the Government to relocate 200 unaccompanied children from Calais to Ireland, Hassett says it would be a “small gesture that would make such a huge difference in the lives of these children. All they want is a future.”
A spokeswoman said Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, was working with the Department of Justice to relocate up to 20 unaccompanied children from centres in Greece and Italy.
The Department of Justice said the relocation of unaccompanied minors “was a complex and sensitive process, involving various aspects of European and domestic law”. Most of those in Calais wanted to get to Britain, he added, and it was important “Ireland does not impose our perspectives or solutions upon them”.