24 October 2017

Former child refugees present plaque to parliament

Exactly one year after the bulldozing of the Calais refugee camp, which became known as the ‘jungle’, campaigners, parliamentarians, and former refugees gathered outside Parliament to mark the anniversary.

In a touching ceremony, the former child refugees who were transferred last year to the UK presented a plaque to parliament, which said:

‘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.’

The 250-strong crowd heard from Yvette Cooper MP, chair of the Commons select committee on home affairs. She urged the government to take urgent action to complete the transfer of unaccompanied child refugees, agreed last year:

“It cannot be beyond the wit of this government to do what this country has always done, and help children and teenagers who need our support.”

The architect of the agreement last year, which saw 750 vulnerable children given swift and legal sanctuary in the UK, Lord Alf Dubs, also spoke about the need to keep the campaign doing.

Movingly, former refugees, Ishmael and Tekele told their stories. Ishmael is now studying in London, and hopes one day to go into politics, perhaps in his native Syria. Tekele spoke of his younger brother, stuck in Calais. He said he worries about him every day and wants our government to help his brother, the same way it helped him.

Beth Gardiner-Smith, senior campaigns organiser for Safe Passage, which organised the event, along with Help Refugees, 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.”

The actor and campaigner, Juliet Stephenson, who works with Safe Passage, urged the world not to forget the children of Calais, and other vulnerable refugees who are so desperate for sanctuary that they are prepared to risk abuse or even death at the hands of human traffickers.