UNTIL A fortnight ago, I resisted many invitations to visit the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, primarily because I was not sure of what use I could be other than to observe in a voyeuristic sense.
But a combination of anger, and the possibility of doing something practical to help, finally persuaded me. And so, I travelled to Calais with 20 other faith leaders as part of a visit organised by Citizens UK – a privately funded third sector organisation – and its Safe Passage project.
My anger arose on learning that among the es imated 800 unaccompanied children in Calais were nearly 400 with an unchallengeable, or at least presumptive, right to residence in the UK.
The children were in two categories: ones with a close family connection in Britain, who are entitled under the Dublin III Regulation to transfer here for their asylum claims to be considered, and just over 200 ‘Dubs’ children.
Lord Dubs was one of 10,000 children rescued from the Nazis by the Kindertransport and his amendment – passed by Parliament – is to receive in the UK 3,000 of the perhaps 30,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe.
It appears to me that, while it is not easy, it should be possible to carry out the procedure for Dublin III children: identify those with family in the UK, provide appropriate legal advice, investigate and gather necessary evidence including guardianship checks, register the claim with the French authorities, purchase a Eurostar ticket and deliver the children from the chaos and danger of the ‘Jungle’ to their families in Britain.
I was appalled to learn that, for inexplicable reasons, the French and British authorities had barely begun the process, and almost all the successful resettling of Dublin III children had been done by Safe Passage with funds raised from the public at a cost of £2,000 per child. Worse, several children were effectively in limbo. The UK govern ment had recognised them as being eligible for transfer to have their asylum claims dealt with here, following approval of what is known as a Take Charge Request (TCR), but delay led to these children languishing in the Jungle.
The example of the Hebrew Prophets reminded me emotion is not sufficient. Some times harsh words and condemnation are called for; on other occasions prayer may be demanded; but in this sad dilemma, the power of prayerful clergy offering their assistance to the authorities might yield results. Thus our group of clergy gave notice that we would visit Calais on a given date and help the authorities by doing whatever was necessary including fetching the children from Calais to the UK ourselves.
I am pleased to report that civil servants at the relevant UK government department have since agreed to propose to their French counterparts a two week target for the completion of a transfer once a Take Charge Request has been accepted. Even more importantly, children have now begun to arrive in Britains.
Their arrival is, of course, only another stage in their lengthy journeys. They have already made long, dramatic and often dangerous treks and what some have witnessed is hard to listen to: the deaths of relatives by bomb, gun, disease and hunger, destruction of homes, schools and hos pitals, separation from parents, siblings and every person they knew.
Notwithstanding the opportunity of safety in an unknown land with a new language, the trauma will remain for many a year.
It is to the credit of the UK local authorities, communal organisations and thousands of individual citizens that a welcome awaits these children when they arrive.
The Jungle is home to some 10,000 people. I met Solomon, who tends the Ethiopian Church; I tasted freshly-baked flatbread made as I watched; I drank sweet tea.
I departed with contradictory thoughts – indignation and incredulity such a facility could be established on European soil within an hour of St Pancras, but inspired and humbled by the human capacity to overcome.