First group of refugee children arrives in Britain from Calais

Resettlement programme commences as 14 minors from war-torn countries are reunited briefly with UK-based relatives

An uncle who had not seen his 16-year-old nephew for seven years has been briefly reunited with him as the first group of 14 refugee children arrived in the UK from a camp in Calais.

Afghan chef Jan Ghazi, 39, had travelled from his home in Wallington after receiving a call from the Red Cross on Monday morning to tell him Haris was one of the 14 children taken from the camp to the UK as part of the government’s resettlement programme of a few hundred minors. When the minibus left to take the children from the processing centre in Croydon to their overnight accommodation, Ghazi glimpsed his nephew.

“I saw him in the window and I shouted to him: ‘Come here – I have come to take you home,’” said Ghazi. They hugged and embraced for about 30 seconds. “He said they said to him they would let us know in 24 hours when we are going to see him. The only thing I recognised was his eyes,” said Ghazi, who fled his war-torn country with the help of the Red Cross in 2009.

Uncle meets nephew from Calais camp: ‘I think it is a dream’

He said his nephew had no living family left in Afghanistan. The 16-year-old had started his journey by being smuggled overland with an older brother who was killed when they reached Iran. “I am very happy he is here,” Ghazi said. “I want to tell him that he is safe, that there are no bombs here and I want to help him go to school and become a lawyer or an engineer or whatever he wants. He is a smart child; I will do my best for him.”

Last week, the home secretary, Amber Rudd, told MPs the French authorities had agreed to verify a list of 387 child refugees with a legal right to come to the UK drawn up by Citizens UK. “Once we have that official list we will move quickly within days and remove very quickly those children,” she said.

Earlier on Monday, Rowan Williams said the safety of up to 400 unaccompanied children stranded in the Calais refugee camp was being put at risk by the government’s “foot-dragging”. The former archbishop of Canterbury said the time was short for the remainder because of the imminent dismantling of the site.

He described the refugee children as “extraordinarily vulnerable” who were trapped in the “chaos of the camp and the chaos of the demolition”. Williams called on the government to expedite the cases of up to 400 children remaining in Calais. “I’m not sure why there is such foot-dragging,” he said at Croydon Minster. “The clock is ticking, the likelihood is the Calais camp will be demolished in the next 10 days.”

The Home Office said the group of 14 who arrived on Monday were among about 100 to be resettled in the UK. They came from countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Kuwait’s stateless Bidoon community. The department confirmed that the children, aged 14-17, were transferred on Monday morning. They will be assessed and screened and may be cared for in specialist accommodation before being reunited with their relatives.

However, Tina Brocklebank, a volunteer who has been conducting refugee counts with the charity L’Auberge des Migrants, said the most vulnerable children in Calais could miss out on being helped amid what she called a confusing census carried out by another charity, France Terre d’Asile.

She said: “FTDA registered a very small number of children on Friday and then shut the gate and told everyone to come back on Monday. It’s a despicable way to build up hopes, withhold and keep changing information and confuse everybody. We are concerned that buses may at some point arrive for the children, and the pushy ones will get on while the most vulnerable ones will still be hiding in their shelters and tents – either because they don’t know what’s going on or will be too scared to get on a bus.”

The French interior minister has warned of a damaging blame game between his country and the UK over the Calais refugee crisis, with accusations of selfishness and inhumanity preventing action being taken to support vulnerable individuals.

Writing in the Guardian, Bernard Cazeneuve said there had been a litany of misunderstandings between the two countries but added that there was now an urgent need for a common outlook to tackle a situation “everyone agrees is a disaster”.

“From the point of view of some in France, the Calais migrants’ misery is entirely down to the selfishness of the British government,” he wrote.

The politician said there was a perception that the UK was using a bilateral agreement with France in an “unscrupulous way, as a means of refusing to take in refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, including unaccompanied children with family connections in the UK”.

Cazeneuve argued that neither country was the first entry point for migrants, but said that both could not abdicate their responsibilities in the long run.

Under EU laws, a child seeking asylum who has a parent or a sibling in another European country can be fast-tracked to join them in that country. Earlier this year, Alf Dubs forced the government to agree to give sanctuary to some unaccompanied child refugees who have no relatives in the UK. Lord Dubs called for a “shared enterprise” between government and charitable organisations working to secure a future home for the children, many of whom have fled wars.

The actor Juliet Stevenson, who is supporting Citizens UK’s Safe Passage programme, said of Monday’s arrivals: “Today is a proud moment for Britain. We did the right thing. The arrival of hundreds of vulnerable children from Calais to the UK in the coming days is in no small part due to the tireless campaigning of community leaders, the hard work of Citizens UK’s lawyers, and the Safe Passage team in Calais who have been working to safeguard children for over a year.”


Lisa O'Carroll and Matthew Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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