Author: Gabriella Swerling
Calais child refugees went on hunger strike – with one attempting suicide – after the UK delayed transfers, prompting warnings from UN and French authorities.
At least 35 children held at a centre in the ferry port in northern France sparked concern among senior officials at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), who then raised the issue of their health and welfare with the Home Office.
Details of the exchange was set out in a series of emails as seen by The Guardian.
The newspaper reported that one of the emails sent by the UNHCR said: “In particular, it was raised that the mental and psychological state of the children had deteriorated in recent weeks, including one case of a child who has attempted suicide and 15 who are currently partaking in a hunger strike.”
The majority of the unaccompanied minors had made applications under the Dublin III regulation, known as the Dubs amendment, which falls under family reunification provisions which are ratified by European law. They must be acted upon within two months, instead the children suffered “excessive delays”.
“We were informed that some of the children have been waiting for several months, and possibly up to a year, firstly for confirmation of acceptance and then for the transfer to the UK to take place,” another email reportedly read.
It was reported that French authorities also contacted the Home Office citing “serious fears about the mental and physical health of these minors”.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The UK takes its responsibilities towards unaccompanied children extremely seriously. Whilst it would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing legal proceedings, we take the safeguarding of children extremely seriously.
“We have been working closely with the French authorities and delivery partners, including UNHCR, to ensure that all the children who are eligible for transfer to the UK can be brought here as soon as possible.
“The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection, and we have provided protection to nearly 34,640 children since the start of 2010.”
The emails were disclosed in a case at the upper tribunal immigration and asylum chamber. The Home Office is being challenged over delays faced by three young refugees forced to wait months to be reunited with their families. A judgment will be handed down at a later date.