Home Office agrees to review asylum claims of child refugees in France

The Home Office has agreed to review asylum applications from child refugees in France after it emerged that several had returned to the site of the former Calais camp in a renewed effort to make the crossing to the UK.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Home Office agrees to review asylum claims of child refugees in France” was written by Diane Taylor, for The Guardian on Sunday 19th February 2017 16.52 UTC

The Home Office has agreed to review asylum applications from child refugees in France after it emerged that several had returned to the site of the former Calais camp in a renewed effort to make the crossing to the UK.

One teenager who arrived in London this weekend after hiding beneath a coach at the port told the Guardian that increasing numbers of children in French reception centres had lost hope of travelling to the UK by official means and were returning to the notorious site.

Responding to questions about his case, and after calls from Theresa May to assess the number of children returning to the site of the camp, the Home Office said it had agreed with French authorities to “review any new information from children formerly resident in Calais”.

Abdal, 17, from Sudan, spent time at the Calais camp before it was dismantled in October. He was then taken to a reception centre in the country while his application to travel to the UK was considered by the Home Office.

“I was in a reception centre and the Home Office rejected many of the children’s cases,” he said. “We lost hope and decided to try by ourselves to get to the UK. A group of eight of us came to Calais to try to reach the UK.

“It was very difficult to get to the UK from Calais, but I managed it hiding under a coach. I’ve got injuries to my back and my hands, but I’m OK because I reached the UK. I’m so, so happy I made it here. Now it is much harder to travel to the UK from Calais but it is not impossible.”

Abdal approached a police station in central London on Saturday and claimed asylum there. An officer from City of London police said the teenager had been well looked after and had been able to have a shower and some food while he was in “protective custody”.

He was deemed to be a child following an age assessment by caseworkers and was taken into the care of social services. “I’m so happy to be in the UK at last,” he said. “But I am very tired from my journey, which was very dangerous. I had a very long sleep last night.”

His arrival follows a political storm over the government’s sudden decision to end its commitment to provide a safe haven for thousands of unaccompanied child refugees in Europe after 350 have been brought to Britain.

Campaigners had hoped that as many as 3,000 children would benefit under the so-called Dubs scheme conceded by David Cameron in May after a public outcry over the European refugee crisis and the prospect of Tory rebellion.

This month Robert Goodwill, the immigration minister, told MPs in a written statement that just one further group of 150 child refugees would be brought to Britain. The Home Office confirmed that they would be the last to be transferred under the scheme.

A separate, accelerated scheme to bring unaccompanied refugee children with direct family links to Britain under the Dublin convention was also to come to an end.

But now the Home Office has said it will look again at some of these Dublin cases, following an agreement with the French government.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The Calais operation has now concluded. All children present in the centres throughout France when Home Office teams visited were assessed against the family reunification criteria in the Dublin regulation and the published guidance for section 67 of the Immigration Act. Children in France may be eligible to be transferred to the UK where they have a family link as set out in the Dublin regulation.

“We have agreed with the French authorities that we will review any new information from children formerly resident in the Calais camp to assess whether it would change our determination of their eligibility under the Dublin regulation, to encourage an application.”

At the start of February Theresa May ordered the Home Office to look into reports that children dispersed from the Calais camp before Christmas were now returning to the French port.

The UK government spent £36m on helping to shut down the Calais camp and committed £80m to pay private security firms to patrol northern French ports for the next three years. The UK also agreed to pay £2m to fund a wall designed to bolster border security in the area.

The prime minister attracted considerable criticism from politicians within her own party, and from prominent faith leaders including the archbishop of Canterbury, when the government announced the closure of the schemes.

A petition on change.org lodged by former volunteers in the Calais camp has called on the Home Office to reconsider the move.

The organisers said they were deeply concerned about the children who had had their family reunification requests rejected under Dublin regulation without being given the reasons for their refusal.

The petition states: “We demand that the Home Office swiftly process the remaining family reunification cases of Calais minors formally under the Dublin III regulations and grant them the full rights and protections it affords.”

Lord Dubs, the Labour peer for whom the Dubs scheme was named, welcomed the Home Office’s decision to reconsider some of the Dublin cases and said he and others would not give up fighting for the right of more child refugees to be taken into the UK.

“We are definitely going to keep pushing hard on section 67,” he said. “We have a lot of support.”

The Home Office spokeswoman said that in total the government had transferred more than 900 unaccompanied children to the UK from Europe in 2016, including more than 750 from France as part of the UK’s support for the Calais camp clearance.

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