Europe’s refugee crisis

France prepares to dismantle ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais, leaving inhabitants to confront uncertain future

The are 1,300 children living in the makeshift migrant camp and time is running out for them to qualify for asylum in the UK

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 October, 2016, 4:06pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 October, 2016, 8:53pm

France will begin demolition of the “Jungle” migrant camp on Monday but the fate of 1,300 children living there remains largely unclear.

After a long, heated campaign led by humanitarian organisations, the British government ­began accepting a small number of unaccompanied child refugees from Calais last week. But hundreds more may not qualify for asylum before the Jungle is destroyed, and time is running out.

I’m not in favour of allowing people in their 20s to say ‘I’m a child’ and then to come into the UK
David Davies, Conservative lawmaker

On Friday, Interior Ministry ­officials said more than 7,500 places have been made available for the refugees living in the camp and minors remaining in France will be dispersed in special centres for teenagers where they won’t mingle with adults.

For the few children who are allowed to cross the English Channel – more than 40, as of ­Friday – there is neither certainty nor peace, as a number of lawmakers have demanded mandatory dental checks to ensure the incoming migrants are minors.

“I’m not pandering to hysteria,” David Davies, a Conservative lawmaker, told the BBC on Wednesday. “If we want to help children, that’s great ... But I’m not in favour of allowing people in their 20s to say ‘I’m a child’ and then to come into the UK and make a mockery of our rules.”

His comments followed the publication of a Home Office ­document obtained by the Daily Telegraph newspaper, in which 65 per cent of refugees whose ages were disputed by British officials were found to be adults, according to figures from 2015.

Inside of the Jungle, a swarm of children and teenagers crowded outside the camp’s makeshift youth centre on Wednesday afternoon, seeking information from French and British volunteers about their chances for asylum. As young as 12 and as old as 18, those with shoes kicked footballs while they waited. Those without stood quietly, shielding their socks from the mud and the rain.

French presidential hopeful Juppe wants border moved from Calais to the British side of the Channel

Amid the typical sounds of children at play, there was a palpable frustration as many were told they did not qualify, either ­because they have no immediate family in Britain or are over age 18. Two Sudanese boys stormed away when a French volunteer told them they had little chance.

Another boy, Sharif Sarfari, 17, said he has lived in the Jungle for 10 months now, having arrived alone from Afghanistan. He said he has tried every legal means of claiming asylum in Britain, where he hopes to finish his studies in engineering. Although in theory he would qualify, he said he has no proof that his age is 17, and thus no means of crossing the channel.

“If the legal way is not supporting me, then I must go in the lorries,” he said. “I told them I have friends there who will support me, but they are not accepting. So where do we go?”