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22 May 2017

Hundreds of unaccompanied refugee children ‘could have been unlawfully denied family reunion’

This week the Administrative Court will consider whether the government failed to take adequate steps to protect children’s rights prior to the demolition of the Calais camp in France, and its continuing failure to deliver and operate an effective system for the transfer of unaccompanied child refugees with family in the UK. Last week, in cases brought in the Upper Tribunal by lawyers working with Citizens UK’s Safe Passage project, it was determined that five children who were in the Calais camp were unlawfully denied their rights to reunite with their families in the UK.

Lawyers working with Safe Passage have said that this week’s Judicial Review could affect the cases of hundreds of unaccompanied children in France. Citizens UK is challenging the government’s failure to set up an operational Dublin III system for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in France. This failure has meant that independent lawyers and 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 claim states.

The group of cases last week were brought by seven children who were in the camp in Calais at the time of its demolition in October 2016 and who were assessed for transfer to the UK in an “expedited process” during which UK officials travelled to France to interview children and make enquiries into their family links. All were ruled to have been unlawfully treated and two of the seven cases were conceded by the government and the children have been brought to the UK already. Each child said that he should be allowed to come to the UK because he wanted to be reunited with his family. Each child also said the decision refusing to allow them to come to the UK in the “expedited process” was unlawful because they were denied the opportunity to properly put their case. Some were given just a verbal one-word explanation on why their cases were refused following months of waiting, and none were given a written explanation.

One 16 year old boy, who had been living alone in the jungle for 9 months, did not even know his request to join his brother been refused until he first met with his British lawyer, two months after the decision was taken. The full reasons for his refusal, disclosed after legal proceedings had been commenced, were entirely different to the one-line reason that had been passed on to the French authorities. There was no effective way for him to ask for his case to be looked at again.

The judgments in these cases are likely to be of relevance to the many other children who have been refused transfer in this same “expedited process” and who remain in France separated from family members.

One of lawyers working on the cases, Sonal Ghelani of the Migrants’ Law Project of Islington Law Centre, said:

“The fact that the Home Office has been found to have acted unlawfully in the cases of all five children indicates that there are likely to have been many more children who were not treated fairly.

Bishop Jonathan Clark, who chairs the Safe Passage project, said:

“The children in last week’s case have been through an unnecessarily long and distressing wait to be reunited with their families. Spending months in the squalor of the “jungle”, being told they would be safely transferred be with their relatives, only to eventually be refused with little explanation, is an unacceptable way to treat some of the most vulnerable children in Europe. We are calling on the government to re-examine the refusals of the hundreds of children who claimed to have family links but were refused transfer.”

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).

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