Campaigners and former child refugees gather to say thank you and highlight current dangers still facing child refugees
Today (24 October), over 100 campaigners, including the charity Safe Passage, Help Refugees, community and faith leaders, with former child refugees gathered outside parliament on the first anniversary of the demolition of the Calais refugee camp, known as the ‘jungle’.
Unusually, people were not there to protest, but to praise the authorities – saying thank you to the UK government for ensuring that 750 unaccompanied child refugees were given swift, safe and legal access to the UK.
A group of former refugees presented a plaque to Lord Alf Dubs, the peer who campaigned to ensure children were given safe passage to the UK.
The moving inscription on the plaque reads:
We thank the British people and Parliament for giving us peace. We found a beautiful life in the UK, so different to the life we fled. We were suffering, but now we are safe.
Amid the thanks, there are concerns that a year after the Calais camp was bulldozed, desperate refugees are again, gathering in northern France.
Beth Gardiner-Smith, senior campaigns organiser for Safe Passage, said:
“We acknowledge the efforts made by the government 12 months ago, but fear there is no longer a sense of urgency about what is still a crisis. There are some 200 unaccompanied children in and around Calais, sleeping rough in woods and at the mercy of traffickers. We’ve heard disturbing reports that police have been using pepper spray – directly at children – to disperse them at night.
“This shouldn’t be happening. Last year it took just days to safely and legally reunite children with their family in Britain. Now, it can take up to a year. We’re talking about vulnerable young people who are scared and losing faith in a system that is legal and instead risking their lives attempting dangerous routes. The UK and French Governments must now urgently improve access to safe and legal routes for these children.”
Josie Naughton, CEO and Founder of Help Refugees, said:
“The demolition of the Calais ‘Jungle’ didn’t solve the refugee crisis in Calais. Children are still on their own sleeping rough with nothing but a blanket to keep them warm.
The government promised to resettle 480 children under the Dubs Amendment. But one year since the closure of the camp and nearly 300 of these places remain unfilled. We are here today to demand that at the very least all 480 places are filled before the end of the year, to protect at least some of the children of Calais from freezing temperatures this Christmas.”