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Anger as ‘panicking’ Home Office puts minors in detention centre

Publié le 23-10-2016

Source  : www.theguardian.com

Auteur : Mark Townsend, Home Affairs editor

«  Source claims officials ‘didn’t do anything’ for weeks after closure of Calais camp was proposed and are not ready to place minors with their families.

Newly arrived child refugees from Calais are being forced to live in a controversial former detention centre because the Home Office refused to enact a resettlement strategy to safely house unaccompanied minors.

Despite months of warnings from the French authorities that the Calais camp would close, the Observer has learnt that the Home Office elected not to act on a plan designed and agreed by local councils to ensure vulnerable child refugees were adequately housed when they came to Britain.

Dismantling the vast camp in France will begin on Monday, although its large population of unaccompanied minors will be kept on site, raising hopes that the UK government may be willing to significantly increase the number of child refugees it will allow into Britain.

And there are indications that the UK may be on the verge of bringing in the first refugees from Calais under the so-called Dubs amendment – the government promise to help unaccompanied minors announced in May.

So far only child refugees with relatives in the UK have been allowed to enter, but on Saturday sources in the camp said a group of teenage Eritrean girls were on the brink of being taken to Britain under the amendment – a development that could pave the way for hundreds of other youngsters.

The development came almost at the same time as the charity Help Refugees said the high court had fast-tracked its legal action over home secretary Amber Rudd’s failure to implement the Dubs amendment. Rosa Curling, a lawyer at Leigh Day, said : “We are saying that the Dubs amendment is an important new duty and it must be implemented urgently.”

Josie Naughton of Help Refugees said ‘ We really welcome the fact that, after bringing our legal challenge, we are seeing some movement at last on registering the Dubs Amendment children in Calais.”Last week more than 60 unaccompanied minors arrived in London from Calais to cheers from wellwishers but a hostile response from some politicians and newspapers. Leaked emails sent from Home Office officials last week exposed panic inside the department because officials had not properly prepared for them : civil servants sent pleas for “urgent help” to residential care services, stressing the issue was “time critical due to the need to bring the children here prior to the camp being dismantled”.

The failure to prepare adequately means some child refugees have been forced to stay at a “pre-departure” immigration detention unit called Cedars, near Gatwick airport. Cedars was shut by the government in July following criticism over the policy of imprisoning children and family awaiting removal from the country.

Another negative side-effect of the Home Office’s approach has meant that, despite all the Calais child refugees allowed into Britain having relatives in the UK, only a few have been settled with family members. Instead, a number of younger unaccompanied minors have been placed in foster care because the required background checks on family members have not been conducted.

A source close to the process said : “Politically, the Home Office did not want this to happen, so it didn’t do anything. Therefore as the camp comes to closure it’s a panic – all the work you should have done over three to six months you do over three to six hours. They cannot place the child in a number of cases because none of the checks have been done.”

Andy Elvin, chief executive of Tact, the UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity with more than 500 carers, said : “It’s embarrassing for a developed nation not to have managed this more professionally. We’re not even talking about a massive number of children.”

The plan was drawn up six months ago and agreed two months ago by the Local Government Association and adoption services, although discussions go back as far as September 2015. A document entitled “Processing unaccompanied minors” was drawn up following the meeting in which the need is stressed for a comprehensive database of eligible minors to be created.

Buses will began taking the camp’s residents to reception centres across France from Monday morning. However, charities warn that the arrival of French riot police might also prompt a mass exodus from the camp. During a partial clearance of the camp in March, 129 children went missing.

The French interior ministry has warned that police officers “might be forced to intervene” if faced with resistance – a threat that has raised the potential for violent clashes between the authorities and refugees who do not want to abandon their dream of reaching the UK.

However, officials have said they will not invade the site with bulldozing equipment during the initial phase of clearing the camp.

A spokesman for the Home Office said it would not comment on the specifics of resettlement programmes. »

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

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