LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As the new year approaches, child migrants who left Calais after their “Jungle” camp was demolished are again gathering in the northern French town hoping to reach Britain, migrants and charity workers said.
Last month, France moved more than 1,600 child migrants from the site which had been razed by bulldozers to reception centres across the country after a row with Britain over who should take care of them.
But some children have returned to Calais, just 21 miles (33 km) from Britain, after learning they would not be allowed to enter the UK under a change to immigration law which permits the country to take in vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees.
Last Friday, dozens of child migrants launched a legal challenge against the British government seeking a written explanation of why it ruled that it was not in the children’s “best interests” to be resettled in the UK, their lawyers said.
“Solicitors of the children were not informed of the decision to refuse entry,” said Toufique Hossain, one of the lawyers representing the children.
“Instead children were told individually or in small groups that they were not coming to the UK, including at least one known as ZS who had previously attempted suicide in France,” Hossain said in a statement.
Britain’s Home Office (interior ministry) said it would be “inappropriate to comment on ongoing legal proceedings”.
It said this year Britain accepted 900 child migrants, including 750 unaccompanied children from France.
Eritrean teenager, Efrem, who declined to give his real name, said he had travelled back to Calais by train last week after finding out his application to go to Britain was rejected.
He was travelling with two other minors who had also been relocated to a reception centre in the French countryside.
“They told us they took some people to the UK but not us. I don’t know what happened,” the 17-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
“Hopefully I can get there,” Efrem said, adding that he was looking for a smuggler to help him stowaway on a truck or train to Britain.
The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said reports that children were making the journey to Calais showed how important it was that they have safe and legal routes to the UK.
“Otherwise they will continue to make perilous journeys and continue to fall into the hands of smugglers and traffickers,” UNICEF UK’s chief operating officer Mark Devlin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The French camps have come to symbolise Europe’s fraught efforts to deal with a record influx of migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Reporting by Sally Hayden; Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.