Children in the Calais “Jungle” are risking their lives every night as they attempt to reach the UK, Britain’s anti-slavery commissioner has warned, as he called for ministers to step up efforts to address the plight of lone youngsters in the camp.
Minors are turning to smuggling gangs rather than official routes for claiming asylum or joining relatives who are already in this country, Kevin Hyland suggested.
In a letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, described as “deeply disturbing” by a senior Yorkshire MP, the commissioner painted a stark picture of the threats faced by children and other vulnerable individuals living in migrant camps such as the Jungle.
In a conclusion that will heap fresh pressure on the Government over the issue, he said he is convinced that frustration with, and lack of confidence in, regulations known as the Dublin III procedures “is one of the key motivators behind risk taking behaviour, which leads to higher exposure to modern slavery and exploitation”.
Under Dublin III, asylum claims must be made in the first safe country a person reaches - but children can have their claim transferred to another country if they have family members living there.
Campaigners have repeatedly called for the process to be sped up so an estimated 185 children believed to be eligible for humanitarian protection in the UK can be transferred from Calais.
Unfortunately, migrants had more trust in smugglers than in state led procedures that exist to ensure their protection.Kevin Hyland
The issue came under fresh scrutiny at the weekend as reports emerged that a teenage Afghan boy - said to have a legal right to travel to Britain - had died as he tried to climb onto the roof of a lorry near Calais.
In his letter, Mr Hyland commended the work of the British and French governments to secure borders and tackle smuggling networks - but added that not enough is being done to “address the vulnerabilities of migrants, in particular unaccompanied children”.
Mr Hyland said he received a “clear message” that there is “very little confidence in asylum seeking procedures in France”, as well as the Dublin III regulations.
Some people had already applied for asylum in France or family reunification under Dublin III, but “every night they were continuously trying to cross the Channel illegally”.
The letter said: “The waiting time was simply far too long for them. Unfortunately, migrants had more trust in smugglers than in state led procedures that exist to ensure their protection.”
Labour’s refugee taskforce chair and West Yorkshire MP Yvette Cooper described the revelations as “deeply disturbing”.
She said: “There are children alone in Calais at risk of abuse and exploitation - 400 of whom have family in the UK who could be looking after them.
“The Government agrees that they should be able to re-join their family - but bureaucratic delays mean they are getting stuck for months in this dangerous camp. Their safety and their lives are at risk the longer they are there.
“The Government must take action to bring those children to their families and to safety in the UK immediately. They must work urgently with the French government to ensure no child is left alone and in danger in the Calais camp by Christmas.”
In his letter, Mr Hyland recounted a story he was told of a woman with two young children who had family in the UK but was afraid to register for asylum in France.
“She viewed her only option as going to smugglers to get herself and her children to the UK,” he said.
He said the Government should provide increased resources - and possibly deploy staff - to quickly identify children who qualify to be reunited with relatives in Britain, or relocated here under another initiative to bring unaccompanied refugee children from Europe. Mr Hyland also suggested that a fast-track system should be considered.
“Children are not waiting,” he wrote. “Every night they go to their smugglers who have promised to get them across the Channel.
“Every night they think that this time they will be lucky. However, every night each of these children are at risk of exploitation and sadly even dying as they take huge risks to reach the UK.”
Statistics indicate that in August there were 865 children living in the Jungle, with 676 of that number unaccompanied.
The commissioner, who visited Calais earlier this year, described living conditions in the Jungle as “unsuitable and unsafe”.
It is “absolutely unacceptable” that children are left “at the disposal” of criminal networks, he said.
Groups identified by a project as being at high risk of exploitation and trafficking include young women from countries of the Horn of Africa and Egyptian boys who are forced to steal in Calais town and bring goods back to the camp, according to the letter.
Anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland made a number of recommendations in his letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd on issues relating to migrant camps in northern France.
- Strengthening efforts to identify, refer and assist potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking
- Providing protection and better living conditions to unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable migrants
- Providing increased resources and efforts to ensure unaccompanied refugee children who are eligible for family reunification under Dublin III and relocation under the Immigration Act 2016 are proactively identified and brought to the UK
- UK law enforcement working closely with French counterparts in collecting intelligence on human trafficking and other criminal gang activity in the camps
- Improving understanding of the possible correlation between nationalities of migrants in Calais and potential victims of modern slavery identified and referred in the UK