Teenage boys are being raped in the Calais Jungle, aid workers have claimed, amid concerns over the lack of child protection measures in place in the refugee camp – and the risks of abuse facing thousands of displaced children across the continent.
Medical volunteers helping those camped outside the French town told The Independent they have treated seven boys aged between 14 and 16 in the past six months. who claimed to have been raped. They all had injuries consistent with these claims.
In four cases, the boys required surgery. Only one attended hospital, however, with the others refusing treatment for fear of repercussions or through shame at having been abused.
The Independent has spoken to a GMC-registered doctor to whom the volunteers reported the incidents. He confirmed knowledge of the cases.
Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, has also raised concerns that unaccompanied refugee children across the continent are at high risk of sexual exploitation.
In January, a senior representative of Europol estimated that 10,000 unaccompanied children had gone missing within Europe.
Volunteers in the Calais camp have spoken out about the lack of procedure in reporting serious cases of sexual abuse. They add that the French government’s refusal to classify the camp as a humanitarian crisis is causing major child protection issues.
“If I took one of the boys to the police and said ‘I’m one of the medics and I know this boy has been sexually abused’, I could guarantee they would shrug their shoulders and continue their conversation,” said one of the volunteers.
“I have three boys of my own and this is horrendous,” they added. “These boys would have left their homes and their parents would have thought they were safe and that they were going to a better life, fleeing violence and they end up at 14 being raped in a refugee camp. That it is going on in Europe makes it even more unacceptable.”
The volunteers said they referred the reports to Médecins Sans Frontières, the largest organisation operating within the camp.
Aid agencies have largely been absent from the Calais camp, leaving volunteers to fill their place. The UNHCR has a remit to administer care in refugee camps only if a humanitarian crisis has been declared or if invited to do so by the host government.
With the clearance of the southern half of the camp, which includes the women and children’s centre and commenced on 29 February, the plight of the unaccompanied children has reached crisis point.
Concerns have been raised consistently that a lack of adequate alternative provision for the unaccompanied children – estimated to number up to 500 – has left them at grave risk of falling prey to criminal gangs. In most cases, these children have travelled from their home countries with traffickers.
A spokesperson for Save the Children acknowledged that sexual abuse has been carried out against children in Calais, adding that it was part of a Europe-wide problem and calling on the British government to ease the path of entry into the country for children with a legitimate asylum claim.
“We know that unaccompanied children, of whom there are over 400 in the camp and tens of thousands across the continent, are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. They have travelled hundreds of miles without the protection of adults or families.
“They face exploitation in all different forms, including sexual exploitation, often at the hands of criminal gangs. Save the Children has seen it in Italy, in Greece and in Calais too unfortunately.”
“Many of the children who are in Calais have family in the UK and a right to asylum here but the process is so complex that it can take years... In the meantime they are living in very dangerous situations when they could be safely with their families in the UK.”
A spokesperson for Europol said the organisation had declared the figure of 10,000 missing children across the continent to “raise awareness of the vulnerability of unaccompanied minors traveling with the migrant flow”.
“Unaccompanied minors are vulnerable due to their young age and may be especially vulnerable to different forms of exploitation,” he added.
Médecins Sans Frontières was unable to confirm having received the reports of sexual abuse against minors. The volunteers with whom The Independent spoke also raised concerns that a sex trade was operating within the camp, saying that boys as young as 13 asked them for condoms. They added that attempts to distribute rape alarms were largely futile as there “is nobody here to hear them’.