A lack of information about children’s rights and European asylum law is leaving refugee and migrant children sleeping outdoors in Paris. Governments in both France and the UK must do more to protect them, writes Refugee Rights Europe Programme Manager Alice Lucas.

A recent report by Refugee Rights Europe on the conditions facing displaced children in Paris reveals a situation in which children are currently sleeping rough on the streets, with little access to information about their rights and European asylum law.

A number of unaccompanied children raised concerns in the report regarding the age assessment process, with many reporting that they were dismissed before being given a full interview. This is a highly alarming occurrence, which leaves many children in wholly unsuitable conditions, characterised by physical and mental health issues, and appears to be a direct violation of their rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Living conditions

The living conditions children faced in Paris, the majority of whom were unaccompanied, fell well short of international child protection standards. A striking 78 percent of children we interviewed were sleeping on Parisian streets, where they are at increased risk of developing health conditions and being subjected to exploitation and trafficking.

More than two in five children told us they did not have enough food to eat every day, while almost half of the children reported suffering from a health problem in France as a result of living in an unhealthy environment.

We were alarmed by reports from organisations on the ground who told us authorities often disputed the age of children. In Paris, all children are age assessed by the Red Cross, however we understand there is growing concern that not all are being given the opportunity to have a complete interview, but are instead assessed within five minutes based on their size and how old they look.

This is a very worrying trend, leaving vulnerable children on the streets. In addition, the process of appealing the decision takes a number of months, during which time they remain without protection.

Access to information and reuniting with families

Almost 80 percent of the children we spoke to did not have access to information about their rights and opportunities to change their situation, while a similar number did not have access to information about European immigration and asylum rules.

This is particularly alarming given that one in five children said they had family in Europe – including cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings and other family members. Two thirds of all children interviewed – by far the largest group – said they had family in the UK.

The high number of children who said they had family in the UK suggests they could be eligible for transfer under the Dublin Regulation. Worryingly, only 83 percent of children had applied for family relocation under this scheme.

The lack of information available to children is likely to compound the unsafe and uncertain situation in which many currently find themselves, including extending the amount of time they are living on the streets of Paris.

Protecting refugee and displaced children in France

In light of these findings, it is clear that urgent action must be taken to address the child protection failure taking place in France.

The French government must ensure that all children are appropriately age-assessed in a timely and transparent manner, while those who qualify for protection must be granted safe and secure accommodation immediately. Safe accommodation must also be provided for those who are challenging decisions made on their cases.

Given how the situation also directly concerns the UK government, decisive action ought to be taken in relation to the vulnerable children on the streets of Paris. The implementation of safe and legal routes to the UK should be considered a matter of priority for the UK Government.

Many of these children could be granted protection in the UK under the ‘Dubs’ scheme or may be eligible for family reunification under the Dublin Regulation. Safe, legal routes are integral in combating the growing power of traffickers who are known to exploit vulnerable children and adults in the area, and must not be delayed any further.

In short, effective and long-lasting policy action is urgently needed to secure the rights of displaced children on French soil. The Convention on the Rights of the Child must be at the centre of any policy initiative to ensure that refugee and displaced children are given the protection and opportunity expected by international protection standards.

All pictures: ©Refugee Rights Europe | Samer Mustafa

The ‘Still on the Streets: Documenting the situation for refugees and displaced people in Paris, France’ report is also available in French.

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