Author: May Bulman
A former Calais Jungle child refugee who was unlawfully refused safe passage to reunite with his aunt in Britain has been told he can now join her after languishing in France for more than two years.
The Eritrean national, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is to arrive in the UK next week after he was informed by the Home Office that he has been granted entry, five months after they had agreed to “swiftly” transfer him.
The decision was made days after The Independent exposed his plight, reporting on claims that the government was “playing games” with his life by failing to grant him the right to join his relative.
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His aunt, who travelled from the UK to visit him in April, said: “I’m so happy with this news and I’m not sure if I’m dreaming or not. It’s been a very, very long wait.”
The teenager, an orphan who recently turned 18, applied under the “expedited process” to join his British aunt in October 2016 following the Jungle demolition.
But his application was rejected by the Home Office – a decision that along with many others has since been ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal.
Following the negative decision, the child left the French shelter he was taken to and returned to Calais, where he became street homeless and subsequently contracted tuberculosis and pneumonia and was diagnosed with PTSD.
The boy spent several weeks being treated in hospital and was then moved to an accommodation centre in the north of France, where he was said to be “both physically ill and depressed” as a result of being unable to come to Britain.
In June, after lawyers from Bhatt Murphy Solicitors lodged legal proceedings on the child’s behalf, the Home Office said he would be “swiftly” transferred to the UK to join his aunt, but that he must first claim asylum in France.
Two months after the French authorities registered his asylum claim and made a request for the UK to accept him for transfer so he could join his aunt, the young man was still waiting, prolonging the two years of uncertainty and causing him “serious distress”, according to his solicitor.
In November, the Home Office finally wrote to the French authorities accepting his transfer. Further delays followed in arranging for his travel to Britain, believed to be due to the French authorities, but it has now been confirmed that he will arrive on Monday 28 January.
Hamish Arnott, his aunt’s solicitor at Bhatt Murphy, said: “This is welcome but long overdue, given that for two years he has had the right to come to the UK.”
Beth Gardiner-Smith, chief executive of Safe Passage, which advocated for the boy, said his case highlighted the “gross deficiencies that keep children alone and in limbo in Europe, when they have families to care for them here”
“We hope that lessons will be learned by the Home Office and urge this government to deliver on its promises under the Sandhurst Treaty to speed up family reunion,” she added.
The Eritrean national is said to have left his home country aged 15 to avoid persecution, and experienced being kidnapped, beaten and starved during his journey to Europe. He witnessed people drown when the boat he crossed the Mediterranean in almost sank.
When his aunt travelled from the UK to visit him in April, he seemed to “come alive for the first time”, according to a social worker, who also expressed concern that “he would deteriorate again if he were not allowed to join her in the UK”.