September 2015 – A small group of lawyers, community organisers and faith leaders travelled to Calais, one of many groups making the short journey trying to help.
Unlike others who went carrying aid by the ton, they went with a simple question. They wanted to ask why, when Sweden, Germany, and other EU countries were still open, were thousands of refugees risking their lives trying to survive in the ‘Jungle’ and make the crossing to Britain?
They did not expect that from hundreds of children they would hear such a simple and compelling reason – that they had family in the UK they were trying desperately to reach.
On their return, the group sought top legal advice on the situation of those minors and learned that many of them had a legal right to family reunion. The Dublin III Treaty governs common EU asylum law and says that refugees should claim asylum in the first EU country they reach. However, there is a provision under which, if you are a minor and have close family in another EU country, you can apply to be with them while your asylum claim is considered (and have your asylum claim transferred to that other EU country). This process had never once been used to reunite a refugee child with their family from France to Britain.
October 2015 – Safe Passage was formed, a partnership between lawyers (Islington Law Centre, Bhatt Murphy solicitors and Doughty Street Chambers), community organisers and faith leaders, determined to find a legal and safe way to help children reunite with their families.
November 2015 – Trained volunteers travelled to the ‘Calais Jungle’ and screen over 250 cases of refugees with potential legal claims to asylum in the UK.
January 2016 – Safe Passage won a landmark legal ruling at the Royal Courts of Justice, opening up a legal route for family reunification for children in Calais. Three children and one vulnerable adult arrived safely in the UK days later.
Responding to the pressure created by the legal victory, the government announced a £10 million fund for minors in Europe, plus the creation of the ‘Middle East and North Africa resettlement scheme’, to bring at the time an unspecified number of children to the UK from the area, in addition to the 20,000 refugees from Syria already pledged.
February 2016 – The first Safe Passage clients from Greece arrived in the UK.
March 2016 – For the first time, thanks to Safe Passage, unaccompanied minors who had previously been stuck in the ‘Calais Jungle’ travelled safely and legally to the UK to be with their families through European laws on family reunification.
The ‘Dubs amendment’ battle was waged in earnest in Parliament during the passage of the Immigration Bill.
April 2016 – Campaigner and actress Juliet Stevenson launched a petition on national television calling on the government to safely reunite refugee children in the EU with their families in the UK, after the second child eligible to come to the UK safely and legally died in a lorry trying to reach his uncle.
Trying to head off parliamentary pressure, the government announces the ‘Children at Risk’ scheme will see 3,000 children brought to Britain, the same number originally proposed in Lord Alf Dubs’ amendment.
May 2016 – Dubs amendment is accepted. For the first time, the UK agreed to accept some of the most vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees from Europe who do not have family in the UK.
July 2016 – Despite Safe Passage’s work in Calais, the legal process still takes months, meaning that by July only 40 children from Calais have been reunited with their families in the UK. Safe Passage appeals to the government to speed up the process. Another child dies whilst trying to reach their family in Britain.
September 2016 – Safe Passage presented the Home Office with the redacted details of 387 children in Calais who have a legal right to come to the UK to claim asylum under European laws on family reunification and under the terms of the Dubs amendment.
The first Safe Passage clients from Bulgaria were transferred to the UK.
Safe Passage celebrates the arrival of the 50th child brought over safely and legally from Calais.
October 2016 – The demolition of the Calais camp saw the UK transfer 900 unaccompanied children through an expedited process. Safe Passage were in Calais to oversee the process and safeguard the unaccompanied children.
November 2016 – Safe Passage started to work in Italy
December 2016 – Safe Passage begun training legal practitioners in Athens and Lesvos so that EU family reunion provisions can be made to work by other actors
January 2017 – The first Safe Passage client from Italy arrived in the UK to be reunited with his aunt.
February 2017 – Safe Passage assisted with the transfer of the first unaccompanied children directly from Syria to the UK, when three orphans under the age of 12 were reunited with their uncle.