By Sonja Stiner, a long-term volunteer in Calais
Minors as young as 12 have travelled thousands of miles in the hopes of reaching the UK under the Dubs Scheme. For three years now, they have been actively neglected by the French and British state.
Refugee Youth Service, based in Calais, said that the current child protection system is “inadequate” and ‘“inefficient” and pushing children back into harm’s way.
Unaccompanied minors make up almost 30% of the total number of refugees displaced in Northern France.
When state accommodation is offered, it often comes without access to fundamental services. Children are forced to wait for months on end to hear back from the Home Office: they have no trusted youth workers, no access to internet, and become further isolated from family and friendship circles.
The limited services, support and long transfer delays to the UK, damages their trust and faith in the system. With no remaining options left, minors return to the unofficial camps and attempt dangerous and illegal routes for their vision of a better future.
The current system leaves unaccompanied minors at risk of abuse, trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Currently, unaccompanied minors are at greater risk of being unaccounted for because there are no systems in place to report them as missing in France. This means that Europe’s official 116 000 m issing children’s hotline is turning away vulnerable minors by declining referrals from Refugee Youth Service. This is because they haven’t officially been deemed as missing by the police. The authorities have said that minors cannot be “missing from nowhere”.
The Head of Safeguarding at Refugee Youth Service Hayley Willis said: “Other than phoning deportation centres and asking known associates, there is little hope of anyone looking for them [minors], and even less chance of having their disappearance logged”.
Under the ‘Dubs Amendment’, the UK government committed to transferring 480 unaccompanied refugee children from Europe. A large portion of the 220 children transferred over the last three years have come from France, but now the Refugee Youth Service have said that they can no longer refer anymore children.
There have been reports of the quota for France having been filled but the services on the ground say it still remains unclear.
While the UK government refuses to confirm its plans, 250 minors remain at daily risk of exploitation and increased chances of going missing.
Alongside 10 charities working in northern France, we sent an open letter to Theresa May demanding that the British government fulfils its responsibilities to bring children legally to the UK. In her resignation speech today, May alluded to the work of Sir Nicholas Winton, who worked tirelessly during the war to save 10,000 Jewish children from the Nazi’s.
Yet throughout her Prime Ministership, Theresa May neglected her responsibilities toward the most vulnerable child refugees in Europe, all but closing the vital legal route to safety the Dubs Scheme provided. We call on Theresa May to honour Nicholas Winton’s memory the right way before leaving office: by welcoming more unaccompanied refugee children from France, Italy and Greece.