In 2015, almost 90,000 unaccompanied minors filed asylum claims in Europe. These children travel alone, are extremely vulnerable and are in need of protection. What the future holds for them depends on what we do today.
President François Hollande recently confirmed plans to shut down the Calais refugee camp, where an estimated 1,100 children are residing. Of this group, no less than 800 are unaccompanied minors, children on their own without any adult support. What will happen to these children once the camp gets demolished? Who will protect them?
Founder and Chair of the KidsRights Foundation, Marc Dullaert, personally visited the ‘Calais Jungle’, to witness the situation of these children firsthand. A Dutch television crew joined him, to shed light on the circumstances at hand.
No safety
The Calais refugee camp is an enormous slum, in which some 10,000 refugees and migrants, mainly originating from Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, reside. In the encampment, there is next to no surveillance. With a growing problem of overcrowding, the camp conditions are getting progressively worse.
In this chaotic and extremely violent environment, the rights of the children in Calais are being ignored. They are not being protected, do not have access to adequate health care services and cannot go to a proper school.
“Calais is literally a jungle for children, where predators are on the lookout. Children are not being protected, not being taken care of.” – Marc Dullaert
The 800 unaccompanied minors of Calais are particularly vulnerable as they get no form of protection what so ever. They are exposed to many dangers, ranging from (organ) trafficking and prostitution, to being victims of violence in the camp itself. The trauma of war, having fled their homes, and now a lack of safety and uncertainty, causes severe psychological setbacks for many. Incidents of self-harm and depression are increasing as the mental health of unaccompanied minors deteriorates.
As the children do not know what will happen to them when the camp is demolished, many try to flee and cross over to The United Kingdom. Every night they climb the high barbed wired fences alongside the highway, trying to jump onto the trucks driving to the ferry port. A 14 year-old boy was recently killed when trying to get on a truck. As he fell off, he was run over by another vehicle.
“However harsh the current situation, the fear of not knowing what will happen next is far more frightening.” – Marc Dullaert
Children are at immense risk; whether they stay in the camp or try to get out. International volunteers are trying their level best to secure basic human rights standards, but by far lack the means to provide the support needed.
Children’s resilience
Yet, in all this misery, the resilience of children brings a ray of hope. Trying to guarantee   some stability and peacefulness for the children, British volunteer Mary Jones started a children’s cafe. In this ‘safe haven’ a powerful children’s community has developed, where children look out for each other. Despite their horrific situation, they still laugh, play, and protect their friends, no matter where they are from.
“It touched me to see how older children are taking care of the little ones. In this precarious situation where everything is unsafe and unsure, they stick together. They protect each other from the adults.” – Marc Dullaert
What should be done
It is unsure when the Calais camp will be dismantled precisely, estimates range from mid-October to the end of the year. The foreseen redistribution of refugees and migrants does not in any way warrant the safety or wellbeing of these 800 unaccompanied children. There are no clear plans on how they will be protected in the process. When the southern part of the camp was demolished earlier this year, 129 unaccompanied children went missing in the chaos. They have completely vanished.
“Except for the few volunteers here, no one cares for these children. How can we turn a blind eye and just let this happen? This is not about politics, it is about being decent human beings.” – Marc Dullaert
KidsRights is deeply concerned with the unacceptable situation in Calais. An unaccompanied minor has the right to be safe, to learn and grow in a nurturing and safe environment, and to develop his or her potential, just like any other child.
We urge the European Commission and the European society at large to secure the safety of the 800 unaccompanied children in Calais. All European countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We are therefore responsible to take care of all children within our borders, with or without a passport. They have the basic human right to protection. We should secure their safety now.
Source photo: Kruispunt