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Let Jungle camp children into Britain, top clerics urge PM

Published 09/10/2016

Orphaned refugee children walk among the shelters at the Jungle camp
Orphaned refugee children walk among the shelters at the Jungle camp

Some of Britain's most senior religious figures have united to urge Prime Minister Theresa May to allow nearly 400 refugee children into the UK before the notorious Jungle migrant camp in France is demolished.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams and high-ranking names from the Muslim and Jewish faiths in Britain are among signatories of an open letter urging action against "a stain on the conscience of both France and Britain".

It calls for Mrs May to allow 397 child refugees living in the camp near Calais to be allowed to enter Britain.

It comes after French president Francois Hollande said the site would close before winter, with its 9,000 inhabitants dispersed around the country.

In the letter, organised by the Citizens UK charity, they tell Mrs May the children, the youngest of whom is eight, "have fled conflict and persecution, are now stuck in Northern France, deeply traumatised and at great risk as well documented by the anti-slavery commissioner you yourself appointed while Home Secretary".

They add: "We are now just days away from the start of the full demolition of the Calais camp.

"None of us want the Calais 'Jungle' to exist. It is a stain on the conscience of both France and Britain.

"But in haste to clear it the need to protect children is even more paramount. During the last such demolition the charity Help Refugees documented that 129 children went missing.

"The time to act is now."

Other signatories to the letter include Muslim Council of Britain secretary general Harun Rashid Khan and Laura Janner-Klausner, the senior rabbi to the Movement of Reform Judaism.

They are joined by the Right Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, the Right Rev David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, the Right Rev Peter Hill, Bishop of Barking, the Right Rev Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney and the Right Rev Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark.

Last month Britain's anti-slavery commissioner warned c hildren in the Jungle were risking their lives every night as they attempt to reach the UK.

Minors are turning to smuggling gangs amid frustration at official routes for claiming asylum or joining relatives who are already in this country, Kevin Hyland suggested.

In a letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, said he was convinced that frustration with, and lack of confidence in, regulations known as the Dublin III procedures "is one of the key motivators behind risk taking behaviour, which leads to higher exposure to modern slavery and exploitation".

September also saw more than 200 Christian, Muslim and Jewish clerics, alongside lead representatives of other faiths, signed an open letter urging Mrs May to unblock rules preventing refugee families being reunited in the UK.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The clearance of the camp in Calais is a matter for the French authorities, who also have primary responsibility for unaccompanied children in France.

"The UK government has no jurisdiction to operate on French territory and can only contribute in ways agreed with the French authorities and in compliance with French and EU law.

"The UK has made crystal clear its commitment to resettle vulnerable children under the Immigration Act and ensure those with links to the UK are brought here using the Dublin Regulation.

"We are working continue to work with the French government and partner organisations to speed up mechanisms to identify, assess and transfer unaccompanied refugee children to the UK, where this is in their best interests."

The faith leaders' intervention comes as a Red Cross report warned British bureaucracy was hindering the process of bringing desperate children from the squalid camp into the country.

It claimed to find failures "at almost every point" in the operation to reunite lone child refugees with their families in the UK.

The charity's director of refugee support, Alex Fraser, said: "Right now, the system for transferring children who have a right to be in the UK has numerous problems. Children, who could be rebuilding their lives in safety with their only surviving relatives, are instead being left to fend for themselves in conditions unimaginable to most adults.

"With the forthcoming evictions in Calais reportedly planned by the French government, these bureaucratic problems are now more pressing than ever. We need urgent action from both the UK and French governments. Children with a legal right to be here should be on the Eurostar across the channel, not being dispersed somewhere else in France, with no idea when they can join their family."

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