Large numbers of asylum-seeking minors living in 'legal limbo' as they seek a route to the UK
Refugee Rights Europe reports on safeguarding failures facing unaccompanied minors in Northern France
03 September 2019
With Brexit uncertainty continuing to dominate the news and with the Guardian reporting the Home Office plans to end family reunion for children if there is a no-deal exit from the EU, Refugee Rights Europe has published a new report looking at unaccompanied minors in Calais and Northern France.
You can read the 24-page report here.
Grainne Farrell, the report's author, explains: "The report details the vast array of safeguarding failures taking place on French soil in contravention of national and international law, shining a light on the wholly inadequate and unsafe living conditions, which force many children to 'take matters into their own hands' and risk the dangerous journey to the UK; the continued cycle of evictions which does nothing to resolve the precarious and tense situation occurring in the area; and the tragic deaths at the border and continued reports of police violence occurring against children."
According to Refugee Rights Europe, there are large numbers of unaccompanied minors in Northern France living their lives in a state of 'legal limbo' as they seek a route to the UK.
The report notes that the UK's so-called 'juxtaposed border arrangements' with France and Belgium leave prospective asylum seekers, including the most vulnerable, without a mechanism to file their asylum claim in the UK. Legal means to the UK (via family reunification or via the so-called 'Dubs amendment') are only accessible to a very small minority who fit specific criteria.
The report finds that unaccompanied minors in Northern France face dangerous and traumatising living conditions. In Calais and Dunkirk, they live in informal camps which lack the most basic forms of infrastructure. Aid organisations supply tents, blankets and sleeping bags, but the protection they afford for the winter is inadequate.
In addition, they face being forcibly evicted by French authorities and police as frequently every two days.
The report states: "A member of the Human Rights Observers team told the author that on May 14th 2019, four vulnerable unaccompanied minors, aged 10, 14, 16 and 17 years old were living at one of the camps in Calais. She described the morning the police came and teargassed one of their tents, slashing the other one with a knife. The 16-year-old was arrested and the other three were left in the camp, their only form of shelter destroyed, with no alternative offered. Further, the same informant discussed the negligence on behalf of the police officers towards these vulnerable children when they destroyed their living space, commenting that: "It is clear that there is so much negligence to minors by the police who come and destroy their belongings every morning. That [constitutes], at the very base-level, police violence and negligence by the state'."
It continues: "Chemical agents, such as tear gas and pepper spray, are a common method used by police forces towards displaced communities. One community living in Calais reported daily spraying, often when they were walking, often by a police van on the main road. In Grande-Synthe, food, fires and belongings were continually tear gassed during the early hours of the morning."
While there is an accommodation centre near Calais for processing unaccompanied minors who have family in the UK, Refugee Rights Europe finds that conditions are bleak and unaccompanied minors face long waiting times for their cases to be progressed, encouraging them to take their chances with smugglers instead.
The report notes: "One minor, who was eligible and had passed all the criteria for family reunification, had been waiting in the centre for over a year. In the centre, there is no access to education or psychosocial support and squalid conditions have been reported."
Refugee Rights Europe calls on the UK Government to expand the availability of safe and legal routes to the UK, and it urges the Home Office to provide further specialist caseworkers to the French asylum office in Northern France to ensure the identification of and speedy transfer of displaced children under existing or new family reunification processes.
"A different situation for unaccompanied minors in Northern France can and must be possible, and now is the time for French and UK Governments to act," the report concludes.