Tomorrow, Thursday 2nd November, there is a debate in parliament regarding unaccompanied child refugees in Europe and whether we as a country should do more. A year ago, pressure from the UK public after the violent demolition of the Calais Jungle saw 750 child refugees safely brought over from Calais to the UK. Now, with winter steadily creeping in, and police violence on the up, it is more important than ever to show our support for these children.
Yvette Cooper, MP says “there are 280 empty council places that have been offered up for Dubs refugees and the government is not filling them. I think that is shocking.”
These unaccompanied children are being forced to fend for themselves on the streets of Calais, not knowing what kind of suffering tomorrow will bring. Not only are they receiving no help from the French police, they are being targeted and abused by these authority figures, who are supposedly there to protect. From one war zone to another, these children need us to show them that people do care, to show them that they are worthy of basic human rights.
The Refugee Rights Data Project latest report, “Twelve Months On” shows some shocking data. Researchers interviewed 233 refugees, including children as young as 12. Hundreds of unaccompanied children are currently sleeping rough. I don’t know about you, but I’m cold in bed under my thick duvet and pyjamas, in a house. With double glazing. Imagine sleeping on a freezing street. And then imagine that your one blanket or sleeping bag is confiscated by police at 4am in the morning, or sprayed with tear gas/pepper spray so you can’t use it. A 16-year old boy from Afghanistan explained a typical night in Calais: “[the police] spray tear gas in my face, they take my blanket and sometimes my shoes. Then they beat us with sticks and we run away.” A large number of respondents similarly reported having had their shoes confiscated, which meant they had to run away barefoot in the wet and cold.
Police have also been documented driving young refugee girls into the middle of nowhere in the dark, and deserting them there. A 17-year old Eritrean girl explained that the police had detained her and then drove her to a remote location where they left her at around 6pm. She then walked back to Calais for some three hours. She told researchers she felt scared as it was dark and she didn’t know the directions.
As well as this, these refugee kids receive daily beatings, some being severe enough to break limbs and dislodge teeth. A 16-year old Eritrean boy told the research team about an incident he had seen: “I witnessed an Eritrean kid get beaten up with a police baton. He was injured on his head. I didn’t think he would survive, to be honest.” 97% of minors asked if they wanted to stay in France said no, primarily due to police brutality, hostility, and fears of not having their asylum granted.
Help Refugees UK has provided a template which you can send, or easily customise, to write to your local MP, urging them to attend this debate tomorrow. I have copied and pasted it below so you can give it a read:
Dear <name of your MP/Local Councillor/ Head of Children’s Services in Local Authority>,
I am writing to ask you to attend the Backbench debate on November 2nd on whether we should do more for child refugees. As leader of [council name] I am asking you to continue Britain’s proud tradition of welcoming child refugees and ensure all the ‘Dubs’ places are now filled and children are transferred as quickly as possible.
You will be aware that the Dubs Amendment was passed in May 2016 as S67 Immigration Act 2016 in order to bring to safety unaccompanied child refugees from France, Italy and Greece. Parliament called for the Government to consult with Local Authorities when determining how many children would be granted protection in the UK under the scheme.
During the demolition of the so called Calais “Jungle” in October 2016 the UK gave sanctuary to 200 children under this provision. However since then, no children have been transferred under the legislation, despite the Government admitting in February that 480 placements had been identified in total.
These 200 children prove that our Home Office and our Government are able and willing to follow a proud tradition of being a safe haven for child refugees since the Kindertransport in the Second World War, allowing them to find safety in the UK without risking their lives.
Charities such as Help Refugees and Safe Passage who work with the children left behind say many have family in the UK they should be reunited with, or could be eligible for protection under the Dubs amendment.
Knowing that at least four children have lost their lives last year at our border in Calais before the Amendment was implemented, some waiting to be with their families in the UK, is heartbreaking and we cannot let this happen again.
I am writing to ask that you ensure the further 280 children are transferred safely to the UK now as swiftly as possible and to urge the Government to provide swift access to family reunion so that children do not have to risk their lives to reach protection and family.
I ask that you write to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd reminding her the Home Office must act on their existing legal obligation and promises made to children under the Dubs Amendment (S67 Immigration Act 2016).
- All 480 placements must be filled – The immediate identification, assessment and transfer must take place before the end of the year, to protect children from freezing temperatures and the many other risks they face;
- The EU-Turkey deal eligibility deadline of 20th March 2016 must be scrapped – Currently only children who arrived in Europe before this date are considered eligible for ‘Dubs’, meaning many vulnerable children who arrived more recently are not being considered for the scheme;
- Speed up family reunion for unaccompanied children in Europe with family in Britain (the ‘Dublin III’ regulation) – children are currently waiting many months to access this safe and legal route, leaving many to risk their lives in the hands of smugglers simply to reach family.
I recognise the leadership role Britain has played in coordinating aid to countries with large refugee populations and in resettling refugees directly from the region, however I strongly believe we should also do our bit to support some of the most vulnerable child refugees who have already arrived in Europe.
On the eve of WWII, Britain gave sanctuary to some 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe fleeing Nazi persecution through the Kindertransport. One of these children was Lord Alf Dubs; his amendment – Section 67 – continues this proud tradition of offering protection to some of the most vulnerable child refugees in Europe. I ask you to stand up now for that tradition.
Right now, we are the people who have to stand up for these refugee children’s rights, because who else will?
Follow this link to find your local MP and send them this letter:
You can read The RRDP’s “Twelve Months On” report here: