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The child refugees of Calais : ‘The journey is not yet over’

Publié le 20-12-2016

Source :

Auteur : Amelia Gentleman

« What happened to the thousands of unaccompanied minors when the camp was closed ? This is the story of one who is still in limbo

Of all the children stuck in the Calais camp, 13-year-old Jawaad (not his real name) was one of the best able to articulate the horror of his situation, living in a tent for months, with no adult to care for him.

I met him in August and was impressed by his elegant English, which he had learned from his father, a Nato translator who was targeted by the Taliban for working with western forces, and who had been forced to flee the country separately. Jawaad had no idea where his father was, and had travelled from Afghanistan to France alone. He was finding the conditions in Calais hard to bear. “Every second you are scared that something dangerous will happen to you. The French police are familiar with beating. They don’t care if you are a child or a grownup. They send dogs after us. The dog’s mouth is covered but they can get you with their nails,” he told me, in the tarpaulin shack known as the Kids’ Cafe.

When the camp in Calais was demolished, he was one of 1,700 young people put on buses to youth hostels and former old people’s homes and given temporary accommodation while their applications for asylum in the UK were processed. When we spoke by phone in mid-November, he was in a hostel in Talence, Bordeaux. He said he was relieved to be somewhere warm, where he could have a shower, but he hated the feeling of being in limbo. He said the interviewing process by Home Office officials who were assessing his application to join his cousins and uncle in Southampton was “disorganised”. He complained that because none of the boys spoke French and the staff did not speak English, they were communicating through Google Translate on phones. “People feel unhappy and angry,” he said.

We know that he travelled to the UK at the end of November, one of 750 unaccompanied refugee children. He is in care while officials consider his application, but beyond that there are very few details of his current existence. He is no longer in touch with Mary Jones, who helped run the Kids’ Cafe. Once the children are taken into care in the UK, they often fall out of contact ; usually they are encouraged by their foster parents to cut ties, to avoid any risk that they could be targeted by people smugglers, who may be anxious to have travel debts repaid.

Jawaad “is one of the lucky ones”, says Jones, “if you can call a child lucky when he has no idea where his parents are, just that his father is in hiding from the Taliban and his mother had to flee their village when it was overrun by fighters from Daesh”. At least we know now that he is safe, able to study and work towards his ambition of becoming a doctor.

Volunteers who worked with the Calais refugee children are more worried about those who remain in France, waiting for a decision on their future. Some have gone on hunger strike. The Home Office announced earlier this month that it has ended the emergency transfer programme to the UK, which means that up to a thousand more Calais children are still waiting.

Jones is very worried about reports that several children have left the hostels and are sleeping rough again. “The journey is not yet over for [Jawaad], but hopefully it will just be a matter of weeks before he can get on with his life. For his friends and other refugee children left in France, most of them have given up hope and several have attempted suicide. It is only a matter of time before they go back to Calais and put their faith in smugglers again.” »

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