Charities call on government to step in and help stranded Calais children

Human rights organisations say Ireland has taken in only one unaccompanied minor to date - despite a promise to prioritise the safety of children and teenagers

Charities call on government to step in and help stranded Calais children

French police officers stand in the charred remains of the makeshift migrant camp known as "the jungle" near Calais, northern France, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. Image: (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Human rights groups have called on the Irish government to “show leadership” and take in some of the unaccompanied children who have found themselves in a “dire situation” following the demolition of a refugee camp in Calais.

Charities and human rights organisations have for weeks been warning of the danger of refugee children going missing - and possibly ending up in the hands of traffickers - when the Calais camp was closed.

While several hundred children were housed in shipping containers in the camp last night more than 100 were turned away and forced to sleep in the cold.

UNICEF has warned the current situation in Calais is "exactly what exposes children to traffickers and smugglers, and puts them in dangerous situations without food, shelter and any support”. 

A statement from the Refugee Youth Service (RYS) said children were sleeping on the street outside the Calais camp after their shelters were burnt to the ground.

The statement said children have been misinformed at every step by the French authorities with reports of those who have yet to be processed “now being arrested by the State”.

“With a lack of information, RYS remains extremely concerned for the safety of every single child that is in this camp,” said the statement.

The Children’s Rights Alliance (CRA) said only one unaccompanied minor has been relocated in Ireland so far – despite a government promise to take in more than 4,000 refugees, while prioritising children and teenagers.

CRA chief executive Tanya Ward said children “as young as eight” have been found unaccompanied in the camp.

“We know that unaccompanied minors have been exposed to serious abuse. They have no schools to attend and many are being exploited by ruthless child traffickers.

“Ireland is well-placed to play a central role in supporting the relocation of these children. We are calling on the Government to urgently act to protect these children.”

Mairead Healy - who has been volunteering in the Calais camp and is also acting as a human rights observer during the French operation - called on the Taoiseach to “show leadership to other Governments in Europe and act speedily to ensure 200 extremely vulnerable unaccompanied children are placed in Ireland”.

“The longer that these children are not placed in secure and safe accommodation, the greater the risks to them, both in terms of their safety but also their long term emotional and mental well-being," she said.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said Ireland will have taken close to 1,000 refugees by the end of the year.

Ms Fitzgerald said 40 Syrian refugees arrived into Dublin Airport today.

She said refugees are arriving into Ireland on a regular basis and insisted Ireland would fulfil its commitment to take in 4,000 people – mainly from Syria:

The ‘Not on Our Watch’ organisation said the situation for children in Calais is “dire”.

Spokesman Gary Daly said what is happening should be unconscionable to anyone living in Europe in 2016 and called on the Taoiseach to intervene directly.

“In any comment on this matter to date, government has said Calais is ‘an internal French matter’ - which amounts to diplomatic jargon for it not being Ireland's responsibility,” he said.

“The Taoiseach is not slow to remind us of the strength and importance of our membership of the EU.

“This would be a good opportunity to show solidarity with one of our closest European partners and in the process make a vital humanitarian intervention."