Charity launches legal action against Home Office over failure to accept unaccompanied child refugees

Leading charity argues Home Secretary is breaching her relocation duties

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The Independent Online

A leading refugee charity is mounting a legal challenge against the Home Office for failing to meet its commitment to provide sanctuary for unaccompanied child refugees.

Help Refugees argues that the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has breached her relocation duties by wrongly applying or interpreting May’s Immigration Act.

Almost 90,000 child refugees who arrived in Europe last year were alone, according to official European statistics. The most common country they were fleeing was Syria, followed by Afghanistan and then Iraq.

The charity has provided legal papers alleging that it is “incontestable” the unaccompanied minors the legislation is intended to help “are exposed to serious risks of abuse and exploitation”, The Guardian reported.

Help Refugees' legal action could prompt a judicial review of the Home Office's actions.

The Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act in May stipulated that lone child refugees registered in France, Italy or Greece before 20 March could be resettled in the UK.

As part of the amendment, the Government pledged it would “make arrangements to relocate to the UK” a number of unaccompanied children “as soon as possible”.

Yet, several months on, it appears few children - if any - have been relocated under its provisions.

The legal action against the Home Office comes amid concern for the unaccompanied children currently living in the Calais refugee camp.

French authorities estimate there are 7,000 refugees and migrants living in the so-called Jungle camp, but charities on the ground say the figure exceeds 10,000. Among them are an estimated 400 unaccompanied children.

President Francois Hollande has vowed to clear the camp. He is under pressure to mitigate the rising tide of anti-refugee feeling and Islamophobia ahead of the upcoming French presidential election.

Yet the head of France’s human rights watchdog has indicated the demolition will start as soon as 17 October, intensifying fears about the fate of the children currently living in the camp alone. 

Last time the camp was demolished, 129 unaccompanied minors from the camp disappeared.

While charity leaders acknowledge Jungle camp is not fit for human habitation, they fear for those who live there if it is demolished.

Josie Naughton, co-founder of Help Refugees, told The Guardian: “We absolutely think that the camp shouldn’t be there and no human being should live in those conditions, but we need to make sure that the French keep their word so that proper alternative accommodation is provided and that the eviction is carried out as humanely as possible.”

Jacques Toubon, the former French minister of justice, has written a letter to the Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, urging him to establish arrangements for unaccompanied children after the camp is razed.

According to Help Refugees, the Home Office currently has the paperwork for 387 children currently in the Calais refugee camps who have the right to be in the UK – either international law or the Dubs agreement.

Many of those in the Calais camp have relatives in the UK but have found the process to claim their legal right to asylum in the UK slow.

The Government has come under intense criticism after a 14-year-old Afghan boy who had a legal right to asylum in Britain was killed on a French motorway while trying to reach the UK.

The UK's new anti-slavery commissioner warned in September the slow pace of Brtiains efforts to give sanctuary to unaccompanied child refugees in Calais was exposeig them to the risk of modern slavery and exploitation.

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