A rise in the number of unaccompanied minors in the Calais region hoping to reach the UK are finding it increasingly difficult to access food, water and information on their rights due to a ramping up of police hostility in recent months.
Child right charity, Refugee Youth Service said unaccompanied child refugees in Calais are being placed in adult accommodation centres where they face an unprecedented risk of abuse.
The state-run emergency shelter designed to provide respite for these youngsters is now often full to capacity, leaving them with no option but to sleep on the streets.
More than 250 unaccompanied children were recorded in Calais during the month of August, some as young as 11. Charities on the ground said this was likely to be an underestimate due to the difficulty locating minors as a result of the frequent evictions.
In some cases, during large-scale evictions, children are transported by the French authorities to accommodation centres designed for adults, according to charity workers, who warn that this is fuelling the risk of exploitation and the potential for them to be lured in by smuggling gangs.
They said there was a “clear lack” of specialised identification of minors by the French authorities, who they said have a duty to protect these children during evictions yet do not always enact their responsibilities to identify minors prior to evictions taking place.
Claudia Tomarchio, project manager of the Refugee Youth Service said it was becoming “extremely difficult” for charities to safeguard youngsters.
“There are continuous evictions, big ones. Minors are never informed beforehand and not given the possibility to decide if they want to access a centre for minors. They find themselves having to move their stuff and deal with the police without being able to explain that they’re children,” she said.
“Many are sent to adult centres, usually without their rights being explained to them, with no translators present. This puts them in danger. Child safeguarding is not there anymore. You put them with people who could potentially be smugglers and could exploit them.”
As winter approaches, Ms. Tomarchio said the risks would only grow: “The suppression keeps getting worse by day. Winter is coming. These children are not protected, they will keep sleeping rough. There is a heightened risk of exploitation and of being trafficked.”
There has been a sharp rise Channel crossings from asylum seekers gathered in northern France this year, with more than 7,000 migrants estimated to have attempted the journey. September was the busiest month yet.
Antoine Nehr, from Utopia, a charity that supports asylum seekers sleeping rough in the region, said there had been an increase in unaccompanied minors in recent months, with some as young as 11.
“It’s always been awful for kids here, but now the general situation is getting worse and worse. It’s more difficult to access services and their rights. It exposes them to exploitation by other adults, and they face aggression from the police,” he said.
The situation is compounded by the dearth of legal routes for unaccompanied children to reach the UK, with the Dubs Amendment having ended in May and the family reunion route under Dublin beset with delays and set to end on 31 December when the Brexit transition period ends.
A UK Home Office spokesperson said: “France is a safe country, where those seeking refuge can and should claim asylum. There is also a range of legal pathways to seeking protection in the UK and we will continue to provide safe and legal routes in the future.
The French authorities have been approached for comment. (Source: Independent UK)