19 November 2016

Calais refugee children frustrated as they wait for information on UK transfers

Safe Passage, a programme of Citizens UK, have today revealed that refugee children in France, previously registered in Calais and now living in CAOs (reception centres), are not being given sufficient information about their asylum applications. Some have begun to abscond, and disturbingly, some report being forced to work on fruit farms or share accommodation with adults.

Bishop Paul Butler, Citizens UK Leader, said:

“Children in France are getting increasingly desperate as they hear little from officials, and fill the void with rumours and speculation. With children already absconding from the CAOs it is vital that the Home Office speeds up the rate of transfers to the UK.”

33 boys were interviewed for the survey by Safe Passage over the week of 14 November. Interviews were conducted by telephone with the boys in their own language, each taking around 45 minutes.

Of the 33 boys:

  • Eight (24%) have not been given clean clothes since they arrived
  • 13 (39%) said they felt better off in Calais
  • Five (15%) do not feel safe
  • Three have not been spoken to by anyone “official” since arriving (meaning a lawyer, French authorities, HO officials or local volunteers)
  • Only five have been spoken to by Home Office officials
  • Two have already absconded (these were not included in the 33 full surveys) and two were considering it
  • Three have reported being forced to work in fields picking fruit sent to supermarkets
  • Three have reported adults living with them in children’s accommodation
  • Asked “Do you understand all the information given to you by the staff at the place you are staying?” only one said he understood everything
  • However, only two said that staff at the CAOs did not make them feel welcome
  • All said they had access to showers, hot water and at least two meals per day
  • In some of the centres there are leisure facilities

Rabbi Janet Darley, Citizens UK Leader, said:

“We are hugely concerned about the safeguarding of children in the CAOs in France. The Safe Passage team have had reports of forced labour, and unaccompanied children being made to live with adults. Although the CAOs are, on the whole, safe places for the children to live, they cannot be used as an excuse to delay the transfer of children to the UK. Every day children are separated from their families in the UK, or the opportunity to be placed with foster families, they are missing out on their childhoods.”

Citizens UK have launched a petition calling for half the children from Calais to be resettled in the UK by Christmas.

Comments from the children include:

“I am waiting for my application to succeed in the UK and I am not happy to stay here, I count every day and hours to go to London.”

“Not happy here, it looks like prison, we don’t have any things to play and all the time we staying in our room and it is not safe for us, we lives in middle of adults, their ages are over 20 years.”

“If others run away I am not going to stay.”

“I am not happy here at staying in this accommodation and please please take us out of here to the UK, no proper food, clothes and I am bored here if the situation continue like this I may go somewhere else.”

“It is so hard here. We cannot stay anymore. We will escape.”

“Please do everything that is possible to help us. We have family in UK. We are human not animals and we are stuck here”

The story is covered in today’s Observer.