New research reveals that there are at least 157 children living on their own in the Calais camp with family in the UK

23 April 2016 - Leading aid agencies Save the Children, Citizens UK, UNICEF UK and Help Refugees are calling for the government to take urgent action on unaccompanied refugee children in Europe. 

The intervention comes as new research from Citizens UK identifies 157 vulnerable children living alone in the Calais jungle camp who have close family members in Britain and should legally be reunited here. 

Parliament will debate the issue of unaccompanied children as part of the Immigration Bill on Monday. Last year, approximately 95,000 refugee and migrant children travelled to Europe on their own, or lost their families on the dangerous journey, and the four aid agencies working on the refugee crisis say more needs to be done to protect them.

Some of the children with family links to the UK identified by Citizens UK in Calais are as young as 10. Many of them are traumatised by the wars they have fled from, and are living rough in the camp, but face a long wait and complex bureaucratic procedure before they can be reunited with their families and given a safe home. 

Neil Jameson CBE, from Citizens UK, says: “The fact that children who have a legal right to come to the UK are living alone in tents in Calais is a national embarrassment. The UK has a proud history of offering sanctuary to people in need. The government needs to step in and speed up the reunification process for those children and their families.”

Save the Children also warned of the dangers facing lone child refugees in Greece, where more than 2,000 children are trapped on their own after the sudden closure of the Balkans route. The Greek system is overwhelmed, with the safe shelters for unaccompanied children completely full with long waiting lists. And in Italy, more than 450 children arrived on their own from Libya in less than 48 hours last week [14th April]. 

Tanya Steele, Save the Children CEO, says: “Refugee children who have fled wars on their own to seek sanctuary in Europe urgently need our help and protection. We should be speeding up family reunification so that children with relatives in the UK can live in safety with them, but must also reach out a hand to those vulnerable children who have arrived in Europe and have no family to join.”

Lily Caprani, UNICEF UK’s Deputy Executive Director says: “It is simply an injustice that the life of any child, anywhere has put on hold for all this time – these children in Calais have families waiting for them here in the UK. They cannot be left like this in this state of limbo. These are just some of the unaccompanied children who have the legal right to be reunited with family, who could be here if the system worked. The Government must do all it can to make sure family reunion procedures work for children, putting their best interests at the heart of every decision.”

Josie Naughton, Co-Founder of Help Refugees, commented: “There are hundreds of unaccompanied children in Calais and thousands across Europe, scared, alone and extremely vulnerable. According to Europol, 10,000 refugee children are missing in Europe. This is the same number of children that the kindertransport rescued from Nazi persecution. We hope our government remains on the right side of history.”

The implementation of the EU-Turkey deal and border closures could be making the situation even worse for unaccompanied children in Europe. In the chaos, they are at risk from abuse, violence, psychological trauma and exploitation by people traffickers and criminal gangs. 

UNICEF and other humanitarian organisations warn that the deal does not do enough to address the pressing humanitarian needs of 22,000 refugee and migrant children stranded in Greece, and is putting these children at risk. The new agreement could push children and families into taking other more dangerous routes, including the central Mediterranean Sea.   

- ENDS -

Notes to Editors:

Spokespeople from all three organisations are available. Interviews with children in Calais and the UK are available (but must be anonymised). 

Main contact: 

Charlotte Morris at Citizens UK, 07967818064,  

Additional contacts: 

Caroline Anning at Save the Children, 0203 7630360, 

Emily Poyser at Unicef UK, 07985 421 387, 

Citizens UK is the national home of community organising – a network of over 350 faith groups, schools and colleges that work together for the common good. 
So far Citizens UK efforts to persuade councils to participate in resettling Syrian refugees have persuaded 44 councils to offer 3,097 places. They’ve identified 700 private landlords who are offering properties and persuaded a dozen universities to offer £3.5 million of scholarships for refugees.

UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action. UNICEF UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children and runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK. 

In the light of recent developments, UNICEF has shifted its response from caring for children on the move to supporting stranded populations, and from reception centres at border points to centres which house asylum seekers while their status is being determined, UNICEF is also working towards providing learning opportunities for children who are stranded and setting up a more mobile response with to provide vital services, play, protection and counselling in a single location. 

Save the Children is a leading global children’s charity, working in 120 countries to save children’s lives, fight for their rights and help them to fulfil their potential. It works across the refugee route, starting in the countries which children flee from.
In Italy, Greece and along the Balkans route Save the Children staff are providing food, warm clothes and child protection services for families and children. The charity also runs a reception centre for the most vulnerable unaccompanied children in Lesvos to stay in and is opening another on Samos, and runs night shelters for lone refugee children in Italy.

Help Refugees are a humanitarian organisation and the primary givers of aid to the refugee camp in Calais with over £250,000 provided since September 2015 in the form of food, shelter, clothing and other key needs. For more information see