Migrants in a bureaucratic nightmare at Calais ‘Jungle’
Unaccompanied children who qualify to enter Britain wait in France for asylum
A migrant looks on as the migrant camp the “Jungle” is dismantled in Calais. French authorities have asked the UK to take immediately several children who applied in Calais for asylum. Photograph: Thibault Vandermersch
Citizens UK, a lawyers’ group that has volunteered to facilitate the reunification of refugees with family members in the UK, has registered 450 unaccompanied minors in the camp known as the “Jungle”.
Although Britain is required to reunite spouses, and parents with minors, sources involved in the process say the British government “has to be dragged kicking and screaming into fulfilling its obligations”. Siblings or other close relatives may also sponsor minors if they can prove the ability to support them.
A candidate must be legally present in the country where they apply. This has forced unaccompanied children who qualify for transfer to Britain to wait in great danger for up to a year for French asylum before they can go to Britain.
Shauna Gillan, an Irish lawyer at the UK bar who volunteered in Calais this week, tells the story of Khalifa (19), whose mother is in Glasgow. The young woman fled forced marriage in Afghanistan, but was refused reunion with her mother because she had just turned 18. She lives in a container in the north Jungle and is afraid to walk to the outdoor toilets.
The home office has deported more than 600 Afghans who arrived as unaccompanied minors since 2011.
Once a minor obtains asylum in France, the British government drags out the process. “The British use delaying tactics. They always demand just one more document,” says Pierre Henry, who heads the France Terre d’Asile association. “You can’t outsource your migration and asylum policy by paying a few tens of millions of euro [to the French]. The UK must bear its share of the burden – Brexit or not.”
This week, French authorities asked the UK to take immediately several children who applied in Calais for asylum. British officials said they would respond in 10 days.
The “Zat” (initials of an applicant who could not be named because he was a minor) case in late January established an important precedent, which the conservative Telegraph newspaper predicted would result in floods of migrants.
In a victory for Citizens UK, a British judge ruled that three 17-year-old Syrians and an adult Syrian suffering psychological damage had to be reunited with siblings in the UK. For the first time, refugees from the Jungle travelled legally on the Eurostar to London.
The Zat decision was based on article 8 of the EU Convention on Human Rights, which specifies that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life””
Afghanistan does not register births, and many Afghans don’t even know their own age. The Kuwaiti government provides no documents for its stateless “Bedouins”. Many Syrians are attributed January 1st of the year following their birth as a birthday.
A Syrian couple interviewed by Gillan desperately want to bring the woman’s 17-year-old nephew Ahmad to London. She is a pharmacist who has lived in Britain for 22 years. The man owns a travel agency. They take the boy on outings from the Jungle every weekend.
But Ahmad is from Raqqa, the “capital” of Islamic State, also known as Isis. And he lost his documents. It’s perilous for relatives to ask permission from the group to travel to obtain documents from the Syrian regime.
In the Jungle, migrants face deplorable living conditions, the hostility of local residents and police brutality. On the British side, they face prison. HM Inspectorate of Prisons reported this week that 3,603 people were detained in Dover and Folkestone last summer – equivalent to the number now being expelled from the Jungle.
French authorities are severely criticised for their handling of the crisis. “They’re not respecting a single article of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children,” says Irish woman Karen Moynihan, who runs the Baloos Youth Centre in the Jungle.
The French were so keen to remove unaccompanied minors from the Jungle in the run-up to a court decision that validated its destruction that they lied to entice teenagers on to buses destined for reception centres elsewhere in France.
“They told them they were going to the UK,” Moynihan says. “Because they had filed applications with Citizens UK, the kids believed it.”