Conditions for unaccompanied children in Calais camp worsening, says report

Source : The Guardian

Auteur : Diane Taylor

« Child asylum seekers at risk of disappearing due to lack of safe accommodation and support, says Refugee Youth Service

Conditions for unaccompanied child asylum seekers in Calais are worsening because of a shortage of safe accommodation, according to a report.

The Refugee Youth Service (RYS), a key child protection agency in the Calais camp, has produced a report called Nowhere To Go that documents the deteriorating situation and disturbing lack of support for some of the most vulnerable residents of the camp. The report also warns that deteriorating conditions mean that hundreds of children are at risk of disappearing.

The report is published as senior councillors from the Local Government Association prepare to visit the Calais camp on Thursday to consider how local government in France and the UK can work together to keep unaccompanied children safe and ensure they receive the care and support they need.

The report analyses the current scarce accommodation for children in the camp and in surrounding areas and calls for more accommodation to be provided as a matter of urgency. The report warns that unless safe areas are provided as soon as possible many of the estimated 608 unaccompanied children will disappear.

The report states : “The complete lack of child protection measures or any form of safeguarding in other informal camps or on the road to their next destination highlights the danger these young people are forced to put themselves in due to lack of feasible options.

“If something is not done in the immediate future we are at risk of repeating the catastrophic mistakes of the past.”

The report examines three on-site and three off-site centres around Calais that should be providing support for unaccompanied children but, for various reasons, are providing little or none. One, the Jules Ferry Unaccompanied Minors Accommodation Centre, is supposed to accommodate 72 unaccompanied children on the site but has not yet been built.

Approximately 183 children are living in a container camp known as Le Cap. While this provides a safer option for children than taking their chances in the ramshackle huts and tents on the site it is operating at capacity and has no space to accommodate more children.

RYS has called on the French government to provide safe accommodation for the hundreds of unaccompanied children and states that hundreds of children disappeared when the southern section of the camp was demolished in March. RYS tracked a number of these children to other parts of France and Europe.

The report highlights the cases of some individual children, including a 14-year-old boy who is self-harming, smoking hash and living between two tents and a caravan. He tried to claim asylum in France but was told he must wait in the camp until a space became available in an accommodation centre in Calais. He lost hope because of the delay and continued to make dangerous attempts to get to the UK each night instead. A 16-year-old boy arrived at the camp with nowhere to stay and was forced to move into a tent with strangers while waiting to be granted asylum in France.

A team of experienced therapists, including a group from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, are making regular visits to the camp. Known as the Calais Resilience Collective, they are working to enhance coping strategies of refugees, staff and volunteers, building on work carried out by the refugee team at the Tavistock.

A spokeswoman for the collective expressed alarm at the findings of the RYS report and said conditions for children were “very grim”.

Campaigners have criticised the UK government for not doing more to bring unaccompanied child refugees to the UK in line with Labour peer Alf Dub’ s amendment to the immigration act promising sanctuary. The Home Office said it was involved in active discussions to speed up mechanisms to identify, assess and transfer children to the UK. When the Guardian checked again the Home Office said there were no developments on these discussions to report.

The report follows a warning by Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP, that hundreds of child refugees have been unacceptably left in limbo in Calais camps by Home Office delays, despite having the legal right to be reunited with families in the UK. »

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