Hundreds of child asylum seekers in France who had been expecting to come to the UK have been told that the Home Office has rejected their claims. The children and teenagers dispersed from Calais in October have been advised to lodge their applications in France instead.
The Home Office confirmed that the transfer of children previously in the Calais camp and now in French reception centres had ended, and said those it had decided could not come to the UK had been given advice about how to claim asylum in France. A spokeswoman said more unaccompanied children were undergoing initial screening in Italy and Greece and may also be brought to the UK.
According to the Home Office, 750 children have been brought to the UK, but there were 1,900 registered after the Calais refugee camp was demolished.
One 15-year-old Eritrean boy, Taher, said all 14 boys in his centre run by the Taizé community, a monastic order, were devastated by the news. “I have been on hunger strike since Sunday, drinking only water and coffee to protest about the unfairness of the Home Office keeping us waiting for so long. We haven’t been able to go to school or anything while we have been waiting. And now we have heard this very bad news,” he said.
Taher said many of the boys were planning to run away rather than claim asylum in France, where they were distrustful of the authorities after witnessing police violence against inhabitants of the Calais camp.
“Some will try to get to the UK on a lorry from Belgium. I think I will go back to Calais and try to get to England that way,” he said.
Toufique Hossain, the director of public law at the UK-based Duncan Lewis solicitors, who is representing a large number of asylum seeker children dispersed across France, said he and his team had received reports on Friday from more than 12 children they are representing, all of whom are at different centres.
“From the reports we have received it seems as if this is an organised operation between the Home Office and the French authorities. The children have been told verbally that their asylum claims have not succeeded, but they have not been given any reasons why in writing. This is absolutely shocking.”
Hossain added: “The children are very upset but we are telling them not to run away.”
Although the Home Office recently issued guidance saying it would prioritise under-15s from Sudan and Syria, he said he assumed that officials would then consider the cases of the other children dispersed around France.
“These children are very vulnerable. They have just been told verbally that they can’t come to England without an appropriate adult present to help them deal with this news. We are now looking to see what we can do legally to challenge the fact that the Home Office have failed to provide us with written reasons why they have rejected the children’s asylum claims.”
Rebecca Carr, Taher’s legal representative, said he was a highly intelligent boy who had been offered a scholarship at a school in the UK if he was able to get there. She added that he had worked hard to learn English and said the fear now was that many of the children would run away after receiving the news.
“I’ve been waiting and hoping for more than three months that I will be able to come to England,” said Taher. “I was in Calais for two months and have been in this centre for more than one month. There are 14 of us here who have received this bad news. The British government and the Home Office have been playing games with us. It has always been my dream to come to the UK because I love hearing British accents.
“Whenever I hear a British accent I feel happy so I think if I can come to the UK and hear British accents all the time I will be happy for the rest of my life. If I can come to the UK I want to study to be a doctor so I can help people. And I love Manchester City and One Direction and can see them if I reach the UK.”
A busload of child asylum seekers were brought from France to the UK last Friday, but it is thought that was the last of the Calais transfers.
Charities have expressed concern about the children left behind and warned that more unofficial camps will spring up.Children with close family members in the UK may be eligible to come under rules known as the Dublin regulation. Under an amendment to the Immigration Act proposed by the Labour peer Alf Dubs, some vulnerable children without family members in the UK are also eligible to come to the UK.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We have been working with the French authorities to bring children eligible to come here and more than 750 children have arrived so far. We are working closely with the French authorities to ensure the remaining children in their care are provided with information on how to claim asylum in France.
“The current phase of transfers is being concluded. This is a planned process, done in conjunction with the French authorities. We have interviewed all the children who were transferred from the camp to the children centres in France. Those transferred to the UK include all Dublin cases where the family relationship has been verified.”
She continued: “Between the start of the year and 10 October, over 140 unaccompanied asylum seeking children were accepted for transfer from Europe to the UK under the Dublin regulation. In addition, the UK has taken over 750 unaccompanied children from France following the closure of the Calais camp – under both Dublin and Dubs.
“The Dubs process has not ended. More eligible children will be transferred from across Europe, in line with the terms of the Immigration Act, in the coming months. This could include children from France, Greece and Italy.
“We are working closely with partners across Europe – including the Greek and Italian authorities, the UNHCR and NGOs – to further enable this process and have seconded an expert to Greece, where hundreds of unaccompanied children have undergone initial screening. We also have a longstanding secondee in Italy to support efforts to transfer children to the UK.”