Few are more vulnerable than unaccompanied child refugees and the dire conditions of those in camps in Calais were well known by the time of clearances in 2016. Yet the Home Office treated hundreds of them unfairly and unlawfully in how it rejected their applications for entry to Britain for family reunion, the court of appeal has found. Safe Passage, the charity which brought the case, says many have since gone missing.
Expediting the Calais cases suggested the UK was at least trying to do the right thing and the high court had judged the process fair: although children were given sparse grounds for their refusal, this was due to French demands and time pressures. Now it has emerged that France requested further information – fearing precisely that rejected children might simply vanish if given no incentive to continue engaging with the system. The information was so minimal that children had no realistic prospect of challenging the decision, for example by correcting inaccuracies. But the Home Office refused to provide fuller grounds, because it feared it might face legal challenge.
This is of a piece with the hostile attitude towards all those who do or might arrive upon British shores. The government was forced by parliament into the only other humane gesture – the Dubs scheme to accept unaccompanied child refugees – and then closed it, having provided 480 places instead of the 3,000 envisaged by MPs. (Lord Dubs is challenging the decision.) Only 220have so far been filled. The lack of a humane, effective approach has done children an injustice and pushed some into risking their lives to get here. The court of appeal said the Home Office made a “serious breach in its duty of candour and cooperation” in the original case, but added that this was not deliberate. Its treatment of these children, however, was shameful and entirely intentional.