The unaccompanied refugee children of the Calais refugee camp are putting themselves in grave danger in a desperate attempt to get to the UK. 

Despite these children having the legal right to be in the UK, a recent survey of the camp shows they are risking their lives on average 2,110 times a week, stowing away in the back of lorries and jumping on trains, in a bid to reach their loved ones. If children not eligible for family reunion or resettlement are included, the number is significantly higher.

Ahead of the new Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s first Home Office questions today [Monday], Unicef UK, Citizens UK and the British Red Cross are calling for the Government to speed up the process to bring these children to the UK.

To date, only 100 children have been brought to the UK from Europe through the family reunification process in the Dublin III Regulation, 50 of whom were from Calais.  There is also a real concern that the Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Act that came into force earlier this year - which was intended to resettle in the UK unaccompanied refugee children stranded in Europe – has not yet led to the UK offering refuge to any additional children.   

A total of 4,000 people contacted their local MP to ask them to ballot for a question about how the government is progressing with its obligation to reunite unaccompanied refugee children with their families under the Dublin III Regulation. In addition, over 150,000 people have signed Unicef UK’s petition urging the government to speed up this process. 

Rabbi Janet Darley, spokesperson at Citizens UK said, “When safe and legal routes are shut down children are left with a terrible choice, train tracks on the one hand and people traffickers on the other. These numbers show the sheer scale of the risk to life and limb of these vulnerable children. The government must now act.

“Theresa May made tackling modern day slavery a priority as Home Secretary, it’s clear she intends to continue doing so as Prime Minster. Well, right now there are 387 children who are eligible to transfer to the UK stuck in Calais risking their lives thousands of times a week.” 

Mike Penrose, Executive Director at Unicef UK said, “These numbers show that the children of Calais have no faith in this onerous and uncoordinated system, so are left with no choice but to risk their lives on a daily basis.

“The public has told us that they want this issue to be addressed urgently. We urge the Home Secretary to take action, as she leads her first Home Office Questions, to ensure that there is an effective and speedy system in place for reuniting these children with their family members in the UK.” 

Michael Adamson, Chief Executive of British Red Cross, at the British Red Cross said, “For children living in appalling and unsafe conditions in refugee camps across Europe, the cross-party and public support for the ‘Dubs amendment’ was both important and hugely encouraging.

“However, at the moment, the slow implementation of the Dubs amendment is letting unaccompanied refugee children down. Even for refugee children who have family in the UK, and so a proven legal right to be here, the process remains far too slow and inaccessible. We urgently need a fast track process for unaccompanied refugee children as well as improved safeguarding and protection in the meantime. Our aim should be for no child to be spending another winter in the Calais ‘jungle’ or in unsafe refugee camps elsewhere in Europe.

The three leading agencies have also urged the Home Secretary to consider how the Dubs Amendment can be made to work in order to give refuge to more children as originally intended. The criteria currently being applied are very narrow and are slowing down the process, making it virtually impossible to identify eligible children. If these criteria were widened and made more flexible, then more children who are currently living in great danger could benefit. 

With the looming eviction of the camp in Calais, Unicef UK, Citizens UK and the British Red Cross, more than ever, are pushing the UK Government to ensure that the rights of unaccompanied children living there are upheld.

-ENDS-

Notes to Editors

The 2,110 weekly attempts were based on a survey of those unaccompanied children in Calais who could legally come to the UK under current schemes – asking them how often they attempt dangerous journeys to get to the UK such as jumping on trains or lorries. The survey found that the average child attempted these journeys 5 days per week. 

Currently, groups on the ground are working with 35 children with active family reunification cases; have identified another 178 children who would be eligible for family reunion; and estimate there are another 209 children who would be eligible for the government’s “Dubs” Scheme. 

As such, our calculation is: (35 children with cases + 178 identified cases + 209 Dubs cases) x 5 days per week = 2110 times per week.

In addition, although the UK Government has said that 30 under 18’s have been accepted for transfer since the Dubs Amendment took force, Unicef UK is not aware that any of these children would not have previously been eligible under the Dublin III Regulation. 

What needs to be done: A speedy system for the children of Calais will require working with the French Government to resolve delays in the system, and resourcing and supporting a properly mandated organisation to identify eligible children and help them through the legal and bureaucratic processes required to transfer their cases. It will also need support for an information campaign to get the facts about family reunion rights out to children in various languages and a child-friendly format, as well as support for escorted transport so that children don’t wait for several weeks even after their cases have been approved. These systems should be established and made effective beyond France, particularly in countries where children first arrive in Europe, such as Greece and Italy. 

For more information please contact: 

Emily Poyser, Unicef UK, 0207 375 6154 or emilyp@unicef.org.uk

Unicef UK Media Team, media@unicef.org.uk , 0207 375 6030

Hannah Wilkinson, British Red Cross, 0207 877 7095 or 07711 376377

About Unicef:  

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, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.  

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK. For more information please visit unicef.org.uk