6 July 2017

Death of Iraqi refugee leads to calls for changes to treatment of child refugees

Yesterday (5 July) an inquest into the death of Mohammed Hassan, an Iraqi teenager who died trying to reach relatives in the UK from Dunkirk, concluded with HM Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire, Mr Darren Salter recommending changes in the way that refugee children are dealt with in northern France. HM Senior Coroner said they should be provided with written information about their rights [to family reunion in Europe]. He also identified concerns about training Home Office officials received in dealing with unaccompanied children and the procedures for passing information to French authorities.

Mohammed had been detained by the Home Office after they found him in a lorry in Dunkirk, just days before he died. The coroner found “non-compliance with existing procedures and arguable gaps” in Home Office procedures in northern France. He also said that there was an element of “don’t ask” among Home Office officials in France when dealing with unaccompanied child refugees “because this will lead to a requirement for more to be done”. The evidence at the inquest also established that Mohammed’s detention by Border Force was not properly authorised.

Mohammed died in Oxfordshire in April 2015 when the lorry he had stowed away in ran him over. Having travelled from Iraq, the Kurdish teenager spent three months in the camps in Dunkirk before eventually smuggling himself to the UK under the wheel arches of the lorry. He was trying to reach his uncle, Shamal Silah in Manchester.

Mr Shamal, who attended the inquest, said:

“He believed he had a right to come to the U.K because his family were at risk of being persecuted by extremist groups (ISIS).”

In response to Mohammed’s death, Safe Passage worked with his family to set up a petition calling on the government to make it easier for children to access safe and legal routes to asylum. The petition was launched on the BBC by Juliet Stevenson and gained 10,000 signatures in the first 48 hours. We also supported his family to demand the coroner’s investigation into his death and referred them to the brilliant team at Bhatt Murphy Solicitors.

George Gabriel, Safe Passage Project Lead, said:

“Mohammed was not the first, nor sadly the last, child to die trying to reach their family as is their legal right.

It is outrageous that despite the provisions in law for child refugees to reunite with their loved ones he was left with little alternative than to climb on the back of a lorry. As we have maintained for two years now government must operationalise these provisions or we will continue to see more deaths, chaos and pain. At the height of the Calais Jungle 1 in 6 people there were just children trying to reach loved ones. As the numbers arriving in Calais start to grow again we hope this inquest will underline the urgent need for government to open this legal pathway, rather than forcing more children onto the backs of lorries and over the barbed wire onto high speed trains.”

In response to the inquiry, a petition to reunite child refugees in Europe with their families in the UK has been launched by the brother of another child who was killed trying to reach him.

Dublin III

Dublin III is the legislation which governs EU asylum claims. According to Dublin III, 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).