28 February 2017

Citizens UK granted permission to bring legal action over Home Office’s failure to implement family reunification for unaccompanied refugee children in Europe

Today Mrs Justice Lang, sitting in the High Court granted Citizens UK permission to go to a full hearing in order to challenge the government’s failure to take adequate steps to ensure that unaccompanied children who spent months living in the Jungle in Calais in 2016, and have now been dispersed to centres across France, are able to access their rights to join their families in the UK.

Citizens UK is challenging the government’s failure to take steps to protect these children’s rights prior to the demolition of the Jungle, and its continuing failure to deliver and operate an effective system under the Dublin III Regulation to facilitate the transfer of unaccompanied child refugees. The government’s failure has meant charities such as Citizens UK’s Safe Passage programme have been forced to do the government’s job by carrying out the necessary legal and logistical work. “There is no functioning state system and what system there is, is currently almost entirely dependent on private actors,” the documents state.

The legal action points out a “longstanding failure by the defendant [Home Office] and the French authorities to identify and protect children” and claims that the “expedited” process instituted by the Government after the demolition of the Jungle camp to bring children with family members in the UK has been implemented in an arbitrary, unreasonable and unfair way. As a result over 400 children claiming to have family in the UK have received no proper decisions on their claims and are now stranded in France with minimal information about how to challenge the unfair decisions in their cases.

The grant of permission means a Court will for the first time examine the steps the UK government took to protect children in the Jungle with links to the UK, the lawfulness of the government’s expedited process and the efficacy of its implementation of the family reunification provisions of the Dublin III system in France.

Citizens UK’s long-term goal is to establish an effective system of safe and legal passage for hundreds of refugee children currently stranded in Europe and seeking to reach their loved ones in Britain. It has sought to do so and continues to do so by working closely with the UK authorities, and hopes that this claim will result in the UK government taking the necessary steps to implement such an effective system.

The Dublin III Treaty which governs EU asylum applications states that refugees must claim asylum in the first safe country they enter. In practice this means that countries use Dublin III to deport refugees back to the frontier of Europe (usually Greece and Italy). Dublin III also however states that refugees with nuclear family in a different Europe country to the one they arrive in should claim asylum on entry to the EU and can then formally request that the country where their family resides “takes charge” of their asylum application. This criterion is intended to take precedence over all other criteria under Dublin III, including the requirement to claim asylum in the first country of arrival. In practice the family reunification clauses were rarely used until Citizens UK’s Safe Passage programme started to operationalise it. Not a single child made a successful take charge application from France to Britain from when the system was established in 2013 until 4 young people supported by Safe Passage won their legal challenge in January 2016.

The court action is supported by campaigners who have become increasingly exasperated at the UK government’s lack of response to vulnerable unaccompanied minors.

Rabbi Janet Darley, spokesperson for Citizens UK’s Safe Passage programme, said: “The UK government has failed to provide protection for unaccompanied children in Calais and across Europe. Without this action through the courts more children will suffer. They have fled war and threats of every kind, only to spend months alone in Europe taking desperate and dangerous measures to reach their families. This should not be the case when many have a legal and a moral right to safe passage.”

The Judge ordered the case to be heard on an expedited basis.