Calais children abandoned

Thousands have drowned in the Mediterannean, died trying to get onto lorries or as victims of traffickers since the Jungle was demolished in 2016. Wendy Pettifer reports on the fate of child migrants

The hardship and homelessness of unaccompanied children coming to Europe, and particularly the region around Calais (to try to get to the UK), did not disappear when the Jungle was destroyed in October 2016. On the contrary, it rendered children even more vulnerable as hundreds now sleep in about 10 informal camps in the pas de Calais area. They have no protection against the harsh Calais winds sweeping down from the North Sea.

Since 2016, 293 children at least have been trafficked illegally into the UK1 and are now forced into bonded labour and/or child prostitution. Only 103 have been located. The children are too scared to say anything due to threats from the traffickers both to themselves and their families back home.

Numbers of Dubs children accepted

The UK’s hostile environment ensures that the numbers of children able to access the UK through Dubs and Dublin III is pitifully low. In 2016 the Government promised to fill 480 Dubs places with children from Calais but until now only 220 have been transferred. This number includes a very small number of children from Greece and Italy and some children entitled to join family members under Dublin III.

The recent court cases

When the Jungle closed, over 1000 children were dispersed in accommodation centres around France, called CAOMIES2, where they were allowed to stay until March 2017, although many ran away from these isolated places. An expedited process, Operation Purnia, was put in place between the French and UK authorities between October 2016 and March 2017 whereby all the children were ‘interviewed’ by the Home Office in France to assess whether they were eligible to join close family members in the UK in accordance with Dublin III.  Five hundred of these children were given one-line refusal letters. They were denied the chance to make fully evidenced applications.

The UK ignored French warnings that many of the children would go missing, which is exactly what happened. Now they are destitute around Calais, in Paris and in Brussels even though many are legally entitled to join family in the UK. They no longer have mobile phones and have no access to interpreters or lawyers so cannot exercise their legal right to come to the UK.

The Court of Appeal rulings in September3 and October 2018 in cases brought by Safe Passage and Help Refugees held that Operation Purnia failed to meet standards of procedural fairness. The court also found that statistics on which the Government relied, in terms of the reluctance of Social Services to accept children across the UK, were fundamentally flawed. Children who are still in touch with their lawyers or with NGOs now have a chance to come to the UK legally. But for the majority who cannot be found it is too late.

Dubs Campaign in support of Court Decision

To counter the Home Office argument that Social Services are unwilling to accommodate children, Lord Dubs and Safe Passage are running a campaign to persuade them to formally commit to supporting specific numbers of children over a period of 10 years.

Hackney Council in October 2016 have agreed to take three per annum, and Islington Council 10. It is a small step in the right direction. Other councils should be pushed to make similar commitments.

Brexit and Dublin III

Lord Dubs succeeded in obtaining an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill currently scheduled to become operational in March 2019. The Government initially excluded Dublin III from the Bill but the amendment now means that children will still be able to apply to join family members in the UK, although the definition of ‘family’ has been tightened to only include parents and siblings.

It becomes ever more difficult to argue that the UK should provide a safe haven for non-EU children facing exploitation and hunger in Europe when we face another savage round of austerity cuts to front line services, particularly the Social Services of local authorities. These cuts threaten the well-being of all disadvantaged children here.

But to give up diminishes all our humanity. Every child should have a chance to thrive somewhere. The hostile environment fostered by the Government since 2010 against migrants is wrong and every small successful challenge is a beacon of hope for the thousands who face destitution in the UK, the EU and beyond.


Wendy Pettifer

Wendy Pettifer is a solicitor and human rights activist.

  1. At a current cost of between £1 and £200.00
  2. Where there was poor provision of basic necessities: food and shelter
  3. Citizens UK v SSHD Court of Appeal 13th September 2018