Calais 'Jungle': Ministers must act to stop children falling into hands of human traffickers, says Yvette Cooper
Ministers must use their powers to stop hundreds of children falling into the hands of human traffickers who could use them for prostitution as the Calais migrant camp known as The Jungle is demolished, a senior MP has said.
Yvette Cooper said asylum applications for unaccompanied children were taking nine months in France and that 400 are at "serious risk" of disappearing as the camp is dismantled and new shelters fill up.
The chairwoman of Labour's refugee taskforce said around 150 of the children have their closest family in Britain and called on the Government to allow them to enter the country as their asylum claims are processed.
Insisting the children have nowhere to go, Ms Cooper called on the Government to accept an offer from UNHCR (the UN High Commissioner for Refugees) to help process applications as part of a fast system to reunite children with their family in the UK.
Ms Cooper said unaccompanied children are not allowed into the new heated container shelters built to rehouse Jungle residents and that a nearby centre for women and children is now full.
Asking an urgent question in the Commons, she went on: "The tents and volunteer support network are about to be bulldozed and there is no safeguarding plan in place at all.
"There is a massive reality gap between what you said and what is happening on the ground.
"Save the Children warn that things are extremely chaotic and this is making an appalling situation for children even worse. This is dangerous.
"You know well there is a serious risk that those children will now just disappear - into the hands of traffickers or criminal gangs or prostitution.
"Another 400 children on top of the 10,000 who Europol say have already disappeared in Europe."
Ms Cooper said the 150 children who have their closest family in Britain, according to Citizens UK, will not apply for asylum in France, Germany or Sweden because they want to be reunited.
The former cabinet minister stressed that the Government agrees that child refugees should be reunited with family and also agrees that if their closest family is in UK they should be able to apply within the country for asylum, promising funding.
She went on: "But that is not happening for the kids in Calais. Even if they manage to apply their cases are taking nine months. They don't have nine months, their remaining tents are being bulldozed now."
Ms Cooper added: "You have talked a good game on stopping trafficking and modern slavery and you are right to be appalled at the criminal gangs.
"But this is where it gets real - you have the power now to stop the trafficking of hundreds of children on our doorstep, will you do it?"
Immigration minister James Brokenshire said the best way for a child to get help is to lodge an asylum claim in France but admitted it should not take anywhere near nine months to process them.
Replying for the Government, he said: "Where an asylum claim is lodged by a child with close family connections in the UK both governments are committed to ensuring that such a case is prioritised.
"But it is vital that the child engages with the French authorities as quickly as possible."
Mr Brokenshire said the Government has provided a single point of contact for family reunification cases.
An asylum expert is being sent to France to improve identification of children and the transfer of any relevant cases to the UK.
The Tory minister said children can make direct applications for family reunion from anywhere in the world if they have a parent in Britain.
He went on: "You reference this period of nine months.
"It should not take anywhere near that and we remain behind our commitments in respect of seeing that there is an efficient and effective process for what we judge is a small number of cases that may have that direct connection to the UK.
"Equally you will be aware of the broader family reunification provisions over and above Dublin (regulations) that would allow children to be reunited with their parents, with direct applications not from France, it could be from the region (around Syria), it could be from anywhere around Europe or indeed in the region itself where there is that direct link to a parent that exists."
Mr Brokenshire insisted the Government takes its responsibility "extremely seriously" and said there are 100 welcome centres for asylum seekers in other parts of France.
He also claimed priority was being given to women, children and other vulnerable migrants in the container shelters designed to replace the tents of The Jungle.