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The Calais child refugees need help – not trial by press in row over ages

Publié le 19-10-2016

Source : www.theguardian.com

Auteur  : John Domokos

« I was in the Calais refugee camp filming a couple of weeks ago. It is a horrible place to be. Aside from the general conditions, with the demolition looming, there is a sense of desperation hanging over the place. A protest held at the entrance to the camp by some of the refugees was brutally dispersed by police using teargas and rubber bullets.

However, there was some sense of hope for one set of people living there – the unaccompanied children.

I spent a lot of time at one or two of the youth clubs there, meeting young people and hearing about their daily lives, their back stories, and their hopes for reaching the UK.

Riswan was a shy, softly-spoken teenager from Afghanistan. He told me he was 15, which seemed about right. I met him in a quiet corner of Jungle Books, a makeshift youth centre built and run by volunteers. He gradually told me his story. He said his father was killed by the Taliban, and shortly after that his mother died from a heart attack. He says it was the grief. With no one left in Afghanistan, he and his 14-year-old brother left and spent a troubled year in Pakistan.

He has an uncle in Birmingham, who told them to come and he would look after them. Riswan told me that all he wanted was to be able to go to school, study and have a normal life. With that, he left to find his brother. He was worried about him, living in conditions like this, and being responsible for him had led Riswan to grow up fast – these were his words.

I wanted to hear more about Riswan but the next day I went back, nobody knew who he was, and he didn’t come back. The Calais camp is like that. More young refugees arrive all the time, while others disappear. What support there is for them is a fairly chaotic network of volunteer-run services and shacks. The legal centre is a small portable hut with a couple of French volunteers taking notes. The hugely dedicated volunteers who run the youth clubs are constantly worrying, or on the phone trying to track one or other of the young people who have gone missing.

The next I saw of Riswan was in a set of photos splashed in a tabloid newspaper, under angry headlines questioning the young people’s age. When I met him, like most of the young people there, he didn’t want to be filmed or photographed. Yet here he was being used to whip up outrage that these young people were being allowed into Britain.

It is very difficult to judge a troubled adolescent’s age, but Riswan came across as sincere, young and fragile. He told me his age and story before he knew anything about the legal moves to bring unaccompanied minors to Britain.

I sat around in another hut late at night with a group of boys. One of them was practising on a battered old guitar. Another boy said he was 14 and seemed incredibly cheerful, but then his mood began fluctuating wildly. It was clear that what he needed was a child psychologist, not trial by press. Yet one of the boys partially visible in the tabloid’s pictures looks like him.

And another boy, Hassan, spoke in my video, with his face hidden and name changed. He had been living in the camp for six months. His older brother lives in Britain, and he did his paperwork to come to the UK legally under the Dublin regulations three months ago. Like many, during this interminable wait he was trying to get through by jumping on the lorries on the motorway. Tragically, his cousin who was in Calais with him died a few weeks earlier, hit by a lorry. “Now I don’t go,” he told me, his voice breaking. Instead he is waiting to be transferred to the UK under the Home Office initiative.

While some of the press here are now hunting for pictures of the oldest-looking refugee they can find to try to discredit the whole process, we mustn’t lose sight of some important facts : there are lots of young people at the camp, many have family in the UK, and almost all of the ones I spoke to seemed vulnerable and in need of care. I hope Hassan, Riswan and others succeed in getting that care and are finally made to feel welcome here.

Names have been changed. »

Voir en ligne : https://www.theguardian.com/world/2...

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