The thousands of people living in Calais refugee camps, known as “the Jungle” (from countries including Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea, include hundreds of children, many sent there alone by their parents. They’re living in poverty, with little food, no consistent education, under threat of violent or sexual assault from police, militia and traffickers. Children as well as adults are trying to reach the U.K. (which cooperates with France in providing security against immigration), and some children as well as adults have died trying. (For more background, visit this October 2015 BBC article.)
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams wrote a column in the Guardian earlier this week, calling for new Prime Minister Theresa May and English politicians to take the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those children who have a “legal and moral” right to sanctuary in Great Britain.
In the Calais refugee camp over the next few weeks, there will be a number of new starts, too. Five babies are due to be born into the destitution and danger of the camp; and new demolitions and evictions are threatened.
Reports of the dangers facing children in Calais are abundant and comprehensive. The latest, from Unicef UK, described the main fears the children have as being of “violence displayed by the police, civilian militias and traffickers, as well as sexual assault committed against both girls and boys”.
Currently no state or agency maintains any kind of comprehensive register of children in Calais. Best estimates from Help Refugees say that there are about 600 unaccompanied minors there; records suggest that as many as 200 children disappeared during the last round of evictions.
It should be impossible to write such sentences about western Europe – let alone an area where the British government exercises joint border controls and where £17m of British taxpayers’ money has so far been spent to bring order to chaos and protect the most vulnerable. How would we react to reports of 600 unaccompanied children in a filthy and dangerous field in Britain, children surrounded by adult men they do not know?
Many of those children could be brought to England because of family connections or because of an amendment to immigration legislation passed in May.
An April 2016 story in The Guardian describes the life of children in the Calais camps.
Last August, Thinking Anglicans published links to church responses to the crisis in Calais, here.
Photo from August 2015 story in the Church Times.