In an exchange in Britain’s House of Lords today, Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Reverend Justin Welby expressed concern for the unaccompanied children left in an increasingly vulnerable situation as the refugee camp known as the Jungle in Calais, France is dismantled. The official Hansard transcript of today’s debate includes the following exchanges:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what views they have expressed to the government of France about the bulldozing of the south section of the Calais “Jungle” camp.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con):
My Lords, the management of migrant camps is the responsibility of the French Government. I understand that the French authorities have increased the capacity in alternative accommodation for vulnerable groups. We are in close touch with the French Government, and the UK has pledged £7.2 million to provide help and facilities for migrants at centres in Calais and elsewhere in France.
Baroness Sheehan (LD):
My Lords, having visited the camps in both Calais and Dunkirk, I am more convinced than ever that the protection of children and the protection of refugees are two of the most important pillars of international law. However, the violent images on our TV screens show that the French and British Governments have failed to uphold either in Calais. Will the Minister urge the Prime Minister to set up the processes necessary to assess the rights of the estimated 300 unaccompanied children in Calais, rather than hide behind the skirts of dysfunctional Dublin III regulations?
We are certainly aware of the situation, which is very difficult for the French Government. They have tried to deal with it correctly: they have applied to the courts for the right to take the actions they have taken and have provided another 100 welcome centres across France to look after these people. The reality is that no one needs to be in those camps. If they are seeking asylum, they should claim it in France. They will then enter the asylum system, and if they have a claim to family reunion in the UK, that can be dealt with expeditiously. We announced just yesterday that through the exchanges of key personnel, we are increasing interoperability between the two departments to ensure that that happens within two months.
The Archbishop of Canterbury:
My Lords, while we would all agree that the situation is difficult for the French authorities, I am sure we also feel that it is significantly more difficult for the 300 unaccompanied children. I recently visited the Marsh Academy near Romney Marsh and saw a school and community fostering and caring with the utmost compassion for significant numbers of unaccompanied children. Given that example, does the Minister agree that issues of compassion should easily trump those of administrative efficiency and tidiness, and narrow definitions of family links, and that we should, therefore, take more children very quickly?
Of course that is true but, on compassion, the Prime Minister said in September that we would bring 1,000 people into the country by Christmas, and so far we have 1,200, half of whom are children. The case in Romney Marsh that the most reverend Primate mentions, is in Kent, which has a particular responsibility in this respect, in terms of the numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving there and needing to be cared for. I was very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, who undertook to write to other authorities about taking more of these unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, to share the burden that currently falls too heavily on Kent.
Riot police clashed with refugees yesterday as authorities demolished shelters at the camp in Calais. The Guardian reports that censuses suggest that there are 445 children living in the so-called Jungle, of whom 305 are unaccompanied.
Photo: The House of Lords via parliament.uk