More than a thousand refugee children could be left homeless after French authorities announced their decision to clear one of the country’s notorious refugee camps, beginning on Monday.
As hundreds of thousands of refugees have streamed into Europe during the ongoing refugee crisis, the French port city of Calais has played host to one of the most infamous refugee camps in Europe, known as “the Jungle” for its size and shanty-town aesthetic.
Some migrant advocates are calling on British lawmakers to help the approximately 1,300 children who live in the camp, but some officials argue that it is often difficult to determine who truly needs help.
“If we want to help children, that’s great, I’m all in favor of that. But I’m not in favor of allowing people in their 20s to say, ‘I’m a child,’ and then to come into the U.K. and make a mockery of our rules,” Conservative lawmaker David Davies told the BBC this week.
Currently, about 10,000 people call “the Jungle” home as they await a chance to cross the British channel to make a better life in Britain. Appalled by aggressive attempts to hop cargo trucks and ships, however, British and French officials made the controversial decision to wall off the camp in September.
“We've done the fence. Now we're doing a wall," said British Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill at a government hearing in September.
Despite another partial attempt at demolition earlier this year, the Jungle is a thriving, if dangerous, community that features a library, school, theater, and at least four places of worship for refugees and migrants of different faiths.
Now, French lawmakers say that refugees will have to relocate to other camps.
“I’m telling them that I can destroy,” French police official Patrick Visser-Bourdon as he roamed the camp, warning residents of the coming demolition. “It’s a legal decision, everything has to be closed.”
A study by the Refugee Rights Data Project finds that as many as 69 percent of the camp's child migrants do not plan to leave the area when the camp is closed. Instead, they plan to sleep on the streets of Calais. Some of these children say that they have relatives in Britain, claims that are difficult to prove when so few have documentation. Others have nobody at all.
British Home Office attempts to rescue migrant children from Calais have not gone smoothly. After a small number of minors were allowed to cross to Britain last week, some lawmakers said that the “children” were older than they claimed to be.
The Home Office refused to conduct dental examinations on the refugees, who are supposed to be under the age of 17, in order to confirm their ages.
The Jungle is no kindergarten, aid workers say. One group of child migrants told The New York Times that living in the camp is risky, and that even going to the bathroom is frightening.
“It's an appalling place for children,” said Save the Children UK’s Martha Mackenzie, according to CNN. “You can't imagine a place less suitable.”
While some are concerned that the British government is aiding young adults rather than children, other lawmakers are working hard to bring more children to safety.
There are two ways that refugee children can currently enter Britain. “Dublin children” under the age of 18 can enter EU member states party to the Dublin II regulation provided they have family members in those countries. Unaccompanied “Dubs children,” named after Kindertransport survivor and House of Lords member Alf Dubs, can enter Britain due to an amendment supported by Baron Dubs earlier this year.
Despite ongoing efforts, sympathetic British lawmakers say that the country’s reluctance to take in children from the camp is appalling. More than one hundred members of Parliament asked Home Secretary Amber Rudd this week to keep the children safe.
“The modus operandi is so at odds with what needs to happen to come to a satisfactory solution to evacuate the children,” said British politician and lifetime peer Baroness Shaista Sheehan in an interview, according to The Washington Post. “Something that’s happening is that the children are leaving the camp and going to even more dangerous camps.”
“No human should live in the squalid conditions experienced in the Calais camp,” said Refugee Rights Data Project founder Marta Welander.