You could be forgiven for thinking it’s crisis over in Calais. The ‘Jungle’ camp has been demolished and the world’s media have moved on. But in the lead up to Christmas there are still hundreds of people in France who need our help.
The former residents of the Calais ‘Jungle’ now languish in centres across France. They are now largely hidden from the public spotlight. Yet many have the same driving aim to be reunited with their family members in the UK.
That is where we come in. The British Red Cross, in partnership with Safe Passage, is working to ensure that these unaccompanied children are legally reunited with their UK-based family members.
A team of specialist lawyers and case workers is on course to bring 100 young people over from France by the end of the year. British Red Cross volunteers have accompanied a further 750 children on the final leg of their long journey to these shores.
Rachel Phoenix, our family reunion coordinator, has been part of this team. They have been trying to jumpstart a process which has a legal basis but – until this year – little practical application: the transfer of children with family members in the UK under the so-called Dublin Convention.
“Dublin is important because it enables children and vulnerable people to exercise their rights to family life while their asylum claim is processed,” said Rachel. “But applying is a difficult task because the authorities have not been prepared.”
As a consequence, many children have remained separated from their UK families for months on end. This was first exposed in our No Place for Children report. They lived in the squalor of the ‘Jungle’ before the camp was demolished.
Since the camp’s demolition, thousands of adults and children have been dispersed all across France. They wait there for a decision on their case and hope to be eventually transferred to the UK.
Their physical safety is now – for the most part – assured. But, as Rachel observes, “the camp’s former residents are increasingly desperate to be reunited with their families.”
“They are also frustrated at the lack of information from the authorities about what will happen next.”
There have been reports of children running away from the centres they are housed in. Others have escaped back to Calais because they want to be physically closer to our shores.
Children have watched as their roommates depart for the UK, wondering why they have not also been chosen.
It’s in this vacuum of information that we operate. With the authorities dragging their heels it falls on charities to help people navigate the bureaucratic process standing between themselves and their families.
All the while, and with the conflicts causing people to leave their homes showing no sign of abating, northern France continues to see the arrival of new refugees on a daily basis.
2016 has seen success for many of the families we are working with. But for Rachel and her colleagues these successes are always bitter sweet. They are all too aware that for all those who will be spending Christmas together this year, there are many, many more still separated from their families.
It is these people we will continue to be there for.