The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that it is assisting French authorities as they begin to close the refugee camp in Calais known as ‘the Jungle,” and “environment not fit for human habitation” and which highlights the need for greater responsibility sharing and coordination between European Union member States.
Yesterday, authorities transferred some 1,900 people voluntarily to accommodation centres throughout France. Many lined up in the early morning in order to board buses. UNHCR was present throughout the process to provide information on legal rights and help identify those people with special needs, including hundreds of unaccompanied children. No serious incidents were reported.
UNHCR has long time recommended that France close the camp and replace it with proper accommodation for asylum seekers and migrants. It now urges that special arrangements are made in order to ensure the safety and welfare of hundreds of unaccompanied children.
“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 support,” said William Spindler, spokesperson for UNHCR during today’s regular bi-weekly press briefing in Geneva.
He added that all efforts, including family tracing, must be made to reunite children with their relatives in Europe so long as it remains in the best interest of the children. 200 unaccompanied children have already left the Calais camp for the United Kingdom.
UNHCR has welcomed the transfer of more than 100 unaccompanied children since 17 October from Calais to the United Kingdom under the Dublin Regulation, which establishes which European Union Member State is responsible for processing an asylum application. Furthermore, the United Kingdom is committed to transferring additional children through the “Dubs Amendment,” which allows unaccompanied children safe refuge in the country.
Mr. Spindler urged that procedures and safeguards be put in place to ensure that transfers are in children’s best interests and that once in the UK, appropriate care arrangements can be made. But, he warned: “The United Kingdom cannot be the only solution for the unaccompanied children in Calais.”
According to French authorities, remaining children will be moved to a site next to “The Jungle” known as the “camp d’accueil provisoire (CAP),” where they will be housed in a safe environment and then interviewed in coming days to determine their best interests.
“The situation in Calais has highlights the need for greater responsibility sharing and coordination between EU Member States to address current gaps in asylum and reception, and increase solidarity measures such as relocation and other legal avenue for people to reach safety,” Mr. Spindler stated.
He called for a “collective and far-reaching” European response “based on the principles of humanity, access to protection, solidarity and responsibility-sharing” and reiterated that UNHCR remains ready to assist France, the United Kingdom, and other members of the EU in their quest for practical and comprehensive solutions.