Once home to 8,000 refugees and migrants living in inhumane circumstances, Calais is again being described as a human rights violation zone. An independent survey by the Refugees Rights Data Project (RRDP) recently uncovered an alarming situation of displaced children and youth living in and around Calais.
Despite its dire living conditions, Calais continues to be a city of transit for those seeking a better future in the UK. Six months after the so called ‘Jungle’ camp was dismantled, around 400 displaced people are living in the area again – nearly half of them children.
With no adequate shelter in the city, displaced people are sleeping rough on the streets. They have limited access to health assistance and often experience violence from either the police or far right citizens.
The situation is particularly harmful to children. Unprotected and abandoned to their fate, the vast majority of these children are alone and exposed to violence, trafficking and exploitation.
French authorities seem determined to drive refugees and migrants, including children, out of Calais. From the 86 children interviewed by the RRDP, over 95 percent have experienced violent episodes of police abuse – including the use of a taser, tear gas and batons. More than three quarters of the children interviewed had already been detained or arrested in the area.
“The national police ran after me and fought me, beat me by stick and sprayed me with tear gas on my face. I didn’t expect that to happen in a country like France,” said a 14 years old boy from Ethiopia.
One 16-year-old boy from Eritrea added:
“They gave me an electric shock. It happened in the Calais port because they were searching the area”.
It is not only the police that represents a threat to the safety of these children. The RRDP report found that at over half of the interviewed children have experienced some form of violence from French citizens – being chased and even hit by cars, beaten and pepper sprayed.
A 23-year-old youth from Sudan lost the sight in his left eye after being attacked with glass bottles by a group of citizens, and had to wait five weeks for medical assistance. On another occasion, a car intentionally ran over a boy and broke his shoulder in a hit and run attack.
Not surprisingly, half of the interviewed minors feel unsafe in France.
While suffering through this abuse, around two in five children reported to have family members in the UK – showing they could be eligible to family reunification under the EU’s Dublin asylum system.
But the majority have not yet been given the opportunity to do so. Those who did either had their request denied and were denied their legal right to a family life, or are waiting for information on the UK’s decision.
Too often these children have been let down when they are in most need. They have already faced numerous difficulties reaching the UK, yet the British government has not taken one single child under the Dubs amendment this year.
Shining a light on the increasingly hostile environment for children in Calais and the lack of legal routes to apply to asylum in the UK, this deeply troubling report shows that too many vulnerable children are facing a high risk of harm.
Much more can be done to protect these children. It is about time the French and British governments stopped passing the buck and started to provide the necessary care and protection for some of the most vulnerable people in Europe.
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