Government urged to take on greater role as France begins moving Calais children

Human rights groups will hold a vigil outside the Dáil tonight calling for 200 unaccompanied children to be offered shelter in Ireland

Government urged to take on greater role as France begins moving Calais children

Police officers guard the entrance of the camp where some underage migrants remained in Calais, northern France, Wednesday Nov. 2, 2016 Image: AP Photo/Corentin Escaillet

Human rights organisations have called on the government to offer support to French authorities as they begin the process of moving unaccompanied children out of a refugee camp in Calais.

Several buses have already left the camp carrying groups of teenagers - all under the age of 18.

The minors have been housed temporarily in converted shipping containers since demolition teams last week tore down the ramshackle compound of shacks and tents that had become known as the "Jungle."

French authorities have already transferred more than 6,000 adults to centres across the country where their asylum claims will be assessed.

But the fate of up to 1,500 unaccompanied children in the vicinity of the jungle is still unclear as France and the UK remain engulfed in a diplomatic spat over who should take care of the youths.

French President Francois Hollande has told British Prime Minister Theresa May that it is the UK's "moral duty" to take its "fair share" of the 1,500 still in Calais - however the UK has said it will make no commitments to taking more minors. 

In Ireland, a number of human rights groups will hold a candlelit vigil outside the gates of Leinster House this evening calling on the government to “offer safety and refuge” to 200 of the unaccompanied children.

The vigil will see groups including the Not On Our Watch campaign, the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) and the Children’s Rights Alliance standing alongside other NGOs and members of the public as the Dáil hears submissions on how Ireland can take a greater role in sheltering the stranded minors.

ICI founder, Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy said the situation should “shock every citizen of Europe to their core.”

“There can now be no disputing the scale of the need, or its urgency - and the longer Ireland stands quietly in the shadows, the more shame we bring on ourselves,” she said.

“One last time, therefore, I call on the Taoiseach, a self-professed European, to act.

“The EU was established, first and foremost, as a community of nations. Ireland needs to act as a mature and caring member of that community; move to assist vulnerable children and in the process demonstrate solidarity with France and Britain."

Fianna Fáil Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Darragh O’Brien has urged the government to contact the French authorities and offer to take in 200 of the children.

“It is important that while the Irish Government shows leadership on this issue, it must be done in a considered manner and in conjunction with the relevant authorities in France,” he said.

“At the end of the day this is an appalling situation and these children are at risk of all forms of exploitation. It is clear that we need action by the Government as soon as feasibly possible.”

Irish Refugee Council CEO, Nick Henderson said the situation “is an emergency that requires quick intervention as vulnerable children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation.”

“There are people out there who are willing to open up their homes to child refugees and we frequently receive emails and calls from members of the public including individuals, couples and families, expressing their will to actively respond to this crisis,” he said.

“If people can make such significant offers of support, then surely as a nation we can do much more to help young people who are so far from their home and normal support networks."

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

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 Department of Justice and Tusla - the Child and Family Agency - are “actively working on relocating 20 unaccompanied minors from Greece,” however so far only one unaccompanied minor has arrived in Ireland.