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Work to begin on clearing Jungle camp amid calls to speed up refugee transfers

Published 23/10/2016

The first group of vulnerable unaccompanied children without links to Britain arrived in the country on Saturday.
The first group of vulnerable unaccompanied children without links to Britain arrived in the country on Saturday.

French authorities will begin work to clear the so-called Jungle refugee camp in Calais on Monday amid warnings that proper preparations have not been made to protect vulnerable children still living in the squalid conditions there.

Thousands of migrants still at the camp will be processed by authorities and moved to centres around France before demolition work begins on Tuesday.

Ahead of the eviction, violence in the camp has flared, with police using tear gas after reportedly being targeted by people throwing stones.

Dozens more refugees from the Jungle have been transferred to the UK over the weekend, but governments on both sides of the English Channel have been urged to do more to speed up the process.

The recent arrivals include the first under the Dubs amendment - which obliged the Government to take in some of the most vulnerable unaccompanied children

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants chief executive Saira Grant said: "It is a welcome development that five months after passing a law to help unaccompanied minor children we are finally seeing some being brought over. The process, unfortunately, has been shambolic.

"Whilst it is vital to get children out of Calais first, focusing exclusively on them, and especially allowing the controversy over the ages of some to dominate national debate, creates an artificial distinction which suggests that all the others who fled war, atrocities and persecution are not worthy of our help because they are adults."

Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, accused ministers of dragging their feet over the transfer of refugees from the Jungle to the UK.

The senior Labour MP said: " This is not going to be an easy process - largely because both France and Britain have left this until the last minute when they should have been working together to protect children and teenagers many months ago.

"Hundreds of children and teenagers remain in the camp and at risk. They should be the priority now. France and Britain need to work together urgently now to get the remaining children into safety."

A charity boss at the site claimed parallels can be drawn between the way refugees have been managed like "cattle" and the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany

Clare Moseley, founder of the Care4Calais refugee crisis charity which has been delivering aid to people in the camp, told the Press Association: "I would not want to trivialise what happened to the Jews because it was so awful, but there are parallels that can be drawn.

"The way that the French people treat the refugees sometimes can feel very much like cattle, it can feel very dehumanising."

Speaking of the shipping containers housing some of the camp's residents, she said: "When they allocate them they just allocate the spaces with no thought for who the people are as individuals, so they mix communities, they mix ages... Nobody ever gets an unbroken night's sleep, nobody ever feels safe."

Meanwhile, the Home Office has continued to come under scrutiny over its handling of the young refugees arriving in the UK following concerns about their ages.

The Sunday Telegraph said councils had offered to send social workers to Calais to carry out age checks but were ignored.

David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association's asylum, refugee and migration taskforce, told the newspaper: "We made the offer in August and the Home Office didn't take it up at the time. They only started asking for social workers with age assessment experience on Friday."

Some of the first wave of arrivals this week provoked speculation over their ages amid suggestions some appeared to look much older than teenagers, and Tory MP David Davies suggested using dental checks to establish their ages.

Screens have since been used to keep the refugees hidden from public view after arriving at a Home Office building in Croydon, south London.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We initially prioritised the transfer of children with family links to the UK, under the Dublin Regulation, and have now started the process of taking in those children without close family links.

"These minors require a different assessment to the Dublin cases - which is why we have now accepted the offer of using local authority social workers.

"We are working closely with the Local Government Association, NGOs and across government to make sure we bring all eligible children to the UK as soon as possible."

Ukip leadership hopeful Raheem Kassam called for the Government to publish records of the migrants who have been allowed into the UK, and he backed dental checks to verify their ages.

"I would like that to be a transparent process, I would like those records to go up on the Government website - obviously redacted, we don't want their faces, we don't want their names attached to these things, but we can show these tests have been done," he told Sky News' Murnaghan programme.

"If the Government can prove to the British public and calm all of this stuff down, then why doesn't it just do it?"

A Save the Children spokeswoman said: " The Jungle camp is no place for a child and its demolition, slated to begin on Monday, needs to be well managed to ensure children are not put at risk.

"Authorities need to avoid a repeat of earlier this year, when the south side of the camp was demolished and violence escalated leading to 129 children going missing, potentially falling prey to traffickers.

"We are therefore pleased a plan about the demolition has been communicated and we urge the French and UK authorities to safeguard children as their top priority.

"We know there are around 1,000 unaccompanied children in the Jungle who will take a long time to register on Monday. Therefore Save the Children and partners on the ground are working with translators to communicate the plan to children, encourage them to remain calm and patient until they can register, and discourage them from trying to run away."

The peer who led efforts to change the law to ensure vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees could come to the UK, even if they have no family in the country, said the row over the age of migrants is a "distraction" and it does not matter if "the odd one slips through" who is older.

Labour's Lord Dubs told ITV News: "It's hard to tell the age of somebody. They are coming from a different country, they are mostly Afghans I think.

"Maybe the experiences they went through have aged them quite a bit. And if the odd one slips through who is 18, the world doesn't come to an end.

"The main point is we are bringing to safety a lot of young people who are vulnerable, who are in terrible danger, and we are going to give them the chance of a better life. I think that's a good thing."

Press Association

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