PARIS — The British government announced Monday that the country will begin accepting eligible children from the Calais migrant camp in northern France within “a week at the most.”
Speaking in Parliament on Monday evening, Home Secretary Amber Rudd told British lawmakers that she expects aid organizations to give her a list in the coming days of the children who qualify by having relatives in Britain and who are stranded in Calais seeking to enter the country. Some have been stuck for more than a year; others have since disappeared.
Rudd’s deadline follows the French government’s recent pledge to demolish what is known as Calais’s “Jungle” camp before the end of the year. Although no details have been provided, the leaders of humanitarian organizations said that the planned demolitions could begin Monday morning.
When the French government demolished a crowded portion of the Jungle earlier this year, 129 unaccompanied children vanished, according to census figures collected by Help Refugees, a British aid organization. There is no official census of the Jungle’s population.
Charlotte Morris, an official at Safe Passage UK, the group drafting Rudd’s list, said that she and her colleagues are working to ensure that the same does not happen this time. Already, Morris added, the group has lost contact with 50 of the 178 children in Calais with family in Britain that they had reported to the Home Office in August.
“We know of one for sure that’s definitely disappeared,” Morris said. “It just goes to show you what kind of danger these kids are in.”
During this next round of demolitions, she said, Safe Passage will provide a number of children in the Jungle with emergency packs containing cellphones, chargers and food. The transfers are likely to take place via Eurostar or bus.
Clare Moseley, the leader of Care4Calais, another aid organization in the Jungle, doubted the British government’s promise to ferry children across the English Channel so quickly. “There’s no way they’re going to bring these children over in a couple days,” she said, insisting that only questions remain.
“In terms of the children, where are they going to put them in the meantime? Where will they be in the demolition? Will they be safe? Safeguarded?”
In Britain and France, the issue of unaccompanied children — mostly from Afghanistan and Sudan — living in the squalor of a sprawling migrant camp between two of Europe’s wealthiest capitals has become one of the most widely denounced aspects of the region’s historic migration crisis.
There are roughly 85,000 eligible children across Europe, only 1,000 of whom are in Calais, according to Morris.
For some, the situation has eerie overtones of World War II. Before the Nazi Holocaust, Britain welcomed some 10,000 Jewish children from Central Europe in the famous “Kindertransports” — a humanitarian legacy that British survivors have sought to rekindle even amid the anti-immigrant rhetoric and spike in hate crimes that have followed the Brexit vote.
Earlier this year, one Kindertransport survivor, Alf Dubs, 84, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, successfully sponsored an amendment to an immigration bill to bring 3,000 unaccompanied children to Britain in a similar fashion. But since his amendment passed in May, only about 50 such children have actually crossed the English Channel.
On Monday, Rudd blamed French bureaucracy for the delay. Meanwhile, Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s interior minister, appealed to Dubs and his supporters. As he told France’s RTL radio before meeting in London with Rudd, “I solemnly ask Britain to live up to its moral duty.”
In an interview, Dubs said he had heard nothing regarding the logistics to follow the upcoming transfers.
Speaking from experience, he said, “the important thing to get right is a safe family environment.”
“A lot of them don’t show it, but they are quite shocked,” he added, referring to a recent visit to the Jungle. “They need a sympathetic environment in which they can feel safe and secure, and to recover from the trauma they’ve suffered.”