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The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Friday it welcomed plans to demolish a migrant camp in Calais in northern France, but expressed fears that children were at risk of trafficking if they were not supported during the transition.
The ramshackle camp has become a symbol of Europe’s struggle to respond to an influx of migrants fleeing war and poverty. The area is home to more than 6,000 people dreaming of crossing the channel to England, including approximately 1,200 unaccompanied children.
“The Jungle site has been problematic for a number of years, and the UNHCR has long recommended it be closed,” the agency’s spokesman Adrian Edwards said at a press conference in Geneva. “Living conditions are appalling, with the most basic shelter, inadequate hygiene facilities, very poor security and a lack of basic services.”
Edwards said it was crucial to ensure that lone children in Calais were supervised during the demolition. They are vulnerable to being trafficked, abused and exploited, he said.
“This is important so that children don’t move on to other destinations and risk becoming exploited by human traffickers or end up living on the streets without any support,” he said in a statement, urging British authorities to reunite eligible children with their relatives in the UK. An estimated 180 children have family ties to Britain.
He also said asylum seekers and migrants should be told when the dismantling would begin, and he said the French government must organise appropriate accommodation for those leaving the camp.
A call to do more for lone children
Britain’s anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland has warned that children were turning to smuggling gangs rather than official routes to claim asylum or to join relatives in Britain. He called for government ministers to do more to help lone youngsters.
Britain’s home secretary (interior minister) Amber Rudd has said the country would honour a commitment to take migrant children from the camp and has urged Paris to help speed up the process.
Aid groups have asked a court to delay government plans to close the camp, arguing that authorities aren’t ready to relocate the thousands of residents.
Thierry Kuhn of the aid group Emmaüs said Thursday that the groups filed an emergency request with a court in Lille seeking to delay the closure. A decision is expected within 48 hours.
The French government has not given a firm shutdown date.