In October, the British government announced it will accept hundreds of refugee children from a squalid camp on the French side of the English Channel. The decision came in response to international pressure to “fulfill its moral obligation” to find homes for migrant minors with documented family links in Britain.
Pressure on the United Kingdom (U.K.) mounted in recent weeks as France advanced plans to flatten the port city camp, moving as many as 9,000 adult migrants to 164 area villages. As France and Britain work to rehouse thousands of migrants doubly displaced by the camp closure, human rights activists fear hundreds of children could be lost in the shuffle.
The camp, commonly called “The Jungle,” is a slummy network of shelters in Calais, home to an estimated 10,000 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Overcrowded, unsanitary and unsafe, The Jungle has been described as an embarrassment to Europe.
While France does not have an official tally, experts estimate up to 1,000 unaccompanied minors live at the Calais camp. In an open letter to British Prime Minister Teresa May, charity officials urged measures for proactive protection, citing the 129 children who disappeared the last time French officials dismantled a refugee camp.
But the warnings already are too late for some children. Aid officials say they’ve lost track of 50 of the 178 children identified as having links to Britain.
“We know of one [refugee child] for sure that’s definitely disappeared,” Charlotte Morris of Safe Passage UK told The Washington Post. “It just goes to show you what kind of danger these kids are in.”
On the French side, plans to resettle refugees continue to create controversy. In the country’s southeast, local authorities have proposed to settle up to 60 migrants in the empty wing of a psychiatric hospital in Pierrefeu. But residents have voiced security concerns and fear clashes between migrants and patients.
“Even if we can understand the dismantling of Calais … our small towns are not the solution,” said Pierrefeu Mayor Patrick Martinelli.
Experts say most migrants stuck in The Jungle want to cross to Britain, not settle in France. Calais is popular with migrants because it’s a primary transit point for trade and travel between the two countries, and its roads and waterways have proved deadly for desperate migrants. On Oct. 9, French authorities reported the death of the 14th migrant killed in the Calais area this year – an Eritrean man hit by a car on a busy highway connecting France to Britain.
According to local reports, the accident occurred when the driver swerved to avoid a group of about 50 migrants stacking obstacles into a makeshift blockade. Such impromptu attempts to block the road have become common in recent months: Refugees slow vehicles, then hop into trucks heading to Britain. Sunday’s incident comes weeks after a 14-year old Afghan boy died when he fell from a truck bound for the Channel Tunnel.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Anna K. Poole writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)