It has been a busy few months for Safe Passage. There have been disappointments: we fought the closure of the ‘Dubs’ scheme for some of the most vulnerable refugee children in Europe, and were all incredibly saddened by the vote to keep the route closed. We were also distressed to learn of the fire in Dunkirk, which saw our clients displaced. But there have also been some real successes: we have been granted permission to bring legal action against the Government over their failure to implement family reunification for unaccompanied children from France.
It has also been a time of firsts. After months of legal battles, the first unaccompanied refugee children from Italy were reunited with their UK-based families, and we brought our first unaccompanied children directly from Syria to the UK.
In addition, we were awarded the Social Justice Campaigner Award at the Sheila McKechnie Awards in March.
As well as developing the Community Mentor programme to support our clients once they arrive in the UK, we have been working with a smaller group of teenagers to develop their leadership and participation in campaigns. These are some of our first clients who arrived last year, who are thriving in the UK but angry about the fact that many of their peers are still stuck in desperate situations across and beyond Europe.
On March 15th, the six-year anniversary of the conflict in Syria, ten of these teenagers (from Syria and Afghanistan) visited Parliament. They were given a tour of the building (where they were most intrigued by the history of Henry VIII and his wives!), had lunch with Lord Alf Dubs and Baroness Jan Royall, and then met with some of their MPs – and others who joined them – to share their experiences.
Four of the group shared the stories of their journeys from home to Europe, their time in the Calais ‘Jungle’, and the lives they are now building here in the UK. They thanked MPs for fighting for them, but emphasised the need to continue fighting for those yet to come. MPs present included Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas, Yvette Cooper, Tulip Siddiq, Barry Gardiner, Gloria De Piero. The MPs were moved, and responded by thanking the teenagers, and reaffirming their commitment to fight for a UK that welcomes refugees.
The event was concluded beautifully by Majeed, from Syria, who said to the MPs:
“The things we saw, we keep in our head. They won’t go away… but we thank you for being a country where we can be welcome, where we aren’t discriminated against for being Syrian, or Iraqi, or Afghan.”
We are now holding training for volunteers covering topics central to their role (such as safeguarding and boundaries, interpreting and the Dublin process), to help empower them in their role with Safe Passage.
Volunteers have translated information on the legal process for those seeking information on their rights in Greece, France and Italy, into eight languages (Arabic, Tigrinya, Pashto, Dari, Farsi, Urdu, French and Spanish).
A brand new online space for all Safe Passage volunteers is going live this month, which will help volunteers stay up-to-date with our news and achievements as a team. They will also be able to record the activities (and hours) they volunteer with us, to help us to better recognise and share the great work they are doing.
Plans for a summer celebration of our volunteers are underway!
We now have two new coordinators in post and a new location – the Safe Passage office is now based in Paris, where we currently have 10 cases.
We have a list of 70 children potentially eligible for family reunification across France. However, we are unable to support them due to capacity.
UK lawyers took on 22 cases of children who were refused family reunion in the expedited legal process during the demolition of the Calais camp. These children were living either homeless or in CAOMIES (Reception Centres) across France. The Field Team facilitated 10 lawyers and interpreters to conduct interviews with the children (plus psychiatric assessments on many of these children).
1,500 people have been displaced after the camp was gutted by a fire started during a fight between rival trafficking gangs. This includes 120 children, 80 of whom have family links in Britain and should not have been in the camp to begin with.
The Prefet for the area has said the camp will not be rebuilt and in the volatile context of the French election things are extremely precarious.
We’ve been working with about 30 of the children eligible for transfer to the UK in partnership with the Dunkirk Legal Centre and the Red Cross, and are now handing out battery packs, topping up phone credit and liaising with family members to do what we can to keep them safe in the chaos.
We have handed a full list of those children eligible for transfer to French and British authorities in the hope that they may expedite things again, as to date we have had to deal with all the usual lengthy bureaucratic obstacles child-by-child-by-child for the Safe Passage clients. We have actually been in court this week about seven children and the Home Office have conceded two of these, who we hope will arrive in the UK within a week.
The fire is a reminder that, without a functioning process, children are driven to North France, to traffickers and dangerous informal camps, when they could receive safe passage and family reunion.
We conducted assessment of Ventimiglia and the smaller informal camps that have sprung up post the demolition of Calais, and we are planning to focus on Safe Passage cases on the France–Italy border.
Since the beginning of the year, we have had three successful transfers to the UK of unaccompanied minors with relatives in the UK.
The team took on an age dispute case from Lesvos, which highlights some of the systemic malpractice surrounding age assessment in Greece.
The Greece team has also taken on its first case from Serbia, involving a thirteen year old unaccompanied minor with a relative in the UK.
We have expanded our pool of UK lawyers and are now working with three new law firms (Wilsons; Southwark Law Centre; Elder Rahimi).
We ran a training session on family reunification under Dublin III (European family reunion regulations) in Lesvos. 41 participants attended, including lawyers, caseworkers and social workers.
We distributed information regarding “Criteria and evidence for family reunification under Dublin III” in all the camps in Lesvos, which host approximately 5,000 asylum seekers and refugees.
In the first months of 2017 we reunited two children from Italy with their loved ones in the UK. We are currently working on other possible transfers of six minors.
Safe Passage Italy, in collaboration with the Municipality of Rome, the Ministry of the Interior and with other NGO’s, is creating a fast-track procedure for minors in Rome wishing to be reunited with their families present in the UK under European family reunion regulations.
In addition, Safe Passage Italy is working with the Ministry of Social Policy to trace children who have the right to apply for international protection in the European country where their family is living.