Why has it taken so long to get child refugees to the UK?

The first group of child refugees has finally made their way from the Calais camp in France to the UK. At least 14 children have now been relocated to the UK, but this wasn’t before months of agony that they suffered in the Calais camp. The children that left leave behind around 800 additional child refugees who they undoubtedly call friends. The time these children have spent in the Calais camp ranges from months to possibly even a year – there is a serious lack of statistics and research regarding the population of Calais. However, it must be recognized that the issue of unaccompanied minors has been an ongoing discussion since at least November 2015. The questions that beg to be asked are why has it taken so long for the British government to resettle these children in the UK and what will happen to the hundreds that remain trapped in the camp?

From a legal perspective, children have two routes to reach the UK: the first is the EU’s Dublin Regulation, which reunites children if their family is already in the UK. The second is the UK government’s “Dubs Amendment” to the Immigration Act. The legal basis is there, but the legal action is clearly lacking.

The decision to relocate children during this particular period is strategic more than anything. I highly doubt that Teresa May’s government cared that winter was coming; rather the strategic timing is due to the decision to close the camp completely. With unaccompanied minors out of the camp, what happens to the 5000+ who remain will become less of a “hot story” for the media to report. Whether the government decides to relocate them to another camp nearby, or advocate their return to their home countries, the hope is that because there are no young people left in the camp, fewer people would talk about it and there would therefore be less pressure on the government to take any action.

The reaction of some far-right groups in the UK to the relocation of child refugees has been nothing short of disgusting. Calls for “dental tests” and “computer recognition tests” to confirm their ages because the children don’t “look like” they’re under-18 is spit in the face of humanity. Whatever happened to compassion? Are child refugees a commodity on the adoption market but not wanted in any other situation?

The short-term approach to the hundreds of children that remain at the camp in Calais is to expedite the process of reuniting them with their families. This expedition should include both legal and emotional support to help children understand what it is that awaits them on the other side of the border. Once in the UK, these children must be integrated into the education system and receive continued mental health support.

In the long term, both the UK and France must work together to address the needs of the adult refugees that remain in the Calais camp, or in the Dunkirk camp if they are relocated there

Yara al-Wazir

The public outcry is dangerous: the lack of public support for the government’s decision to finally do what is fundamentally right and humane can discourage the government from expediting the process for the hundreds of children that remain. Teresa May’s government must be brave and not succumb to a few extreme views that question the age of a child and therefore their “right” to live a dignified life that is outside of a makeshift refugee camp.

In the long term, both the UK and France must work together to address the needs of the adult refugees that remain in the Calais camp, or in the Dunkirk camp if they are relocated there. Age, birthplace and the political stability of a person’s home nation should not be obstacles to a human’s fundamental right to live a dignified life. The needs of the adult refugees include healthcare, support, and legal support to identify whether or not they qualify for refugee status.

It is difficult to commend the efforts of the UK to relocate children this week- on the one hand, I desperately want to applaud the government for its bravery. On the other hand, I feel that the government must not be praised for doing what is fundamentally right, humane and legal. My feelings are stuck between a rock and a hard place; fortunately, this is only figurative for me. For thousands of refugees who remain in Calais, they may literally be stuck between a rock and a hard place between their second-hand tents and their quest for a dignified life.


Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir


Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
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