The death of a 14-year-old boy, killed on a French motorway while trying to reach his family in Britain, despite having a legal right to asylum in the UK, has sparked urgent calls for the Government to stop playing “disgusting politics” with the lives of refugee children.
The young Afghan – who has a brother and two uncles living in the UK – was killed in a hit and run accident on Friday after trying to jump on to a lorry.
He had already started the legal process to join his family in Britain but had been left languishing in the Calais Jungle migrant camp for more than three months due to delays in the system. He is thought to be the youngest victim to lose his life in an attempt to reach Britain from the camp, although because some children are often travelling alone, some deaths go unrecorded.
The news comes as an exclusive report seen by The Independent reveals the number of unaccompanied minors living in the makeshift refugee camp has soared by 51 per cent in the past month to 1,022.
The dead boy had been “waiting so long he lost faith in the system and thought his only option was to risk his life in order to finally reach safety”, according to the charity Help Refugees, which confirmed the death.
“Like the children still trapped in the Jungle, he is likely to have experienced enormous hardship, police violence, hunger and poor mental health. He would have felt he had no rights and that he was not worth the protection of any state. He could have been with his brother, he could have been in school, he could have been safe.
“Instead he is lying on a cold bed, having been identified by volunteers at the Refugee Youth Service.”
Neha Shah works at the Jungle Book Kids' Cafe where she said the 14-year-old spend time learning English or watching films in the evening. She told The Independent: "He was one of the quieter boys and he was very gentle and very polite. He was extremely determined at everything we did. We'd have English lessons and he always wanted his accent to be perfect."
She added: "He often spoke about his big brother who was in the UK and who he had the legal right to join and was trying to reach when he died."
The boy is the second to have died trying to cross the border this year despite being part of the charity Citizen UK’s Safe Passage programme – a non-government funded legal team helping reunite refugee children with their families in Britain.
Lliana Bird, co-founder of Help Refugees, told The Independent: “Witnesses say he had managed to climb onto the back of a lorry, which swerved to try and get him off. He fell and was hit by a car. Neither the lorry nor the car stopped. Many other children witnessed his death and are traumatised by what they saw.”
The boy’s family are in Calais today but do not wish to share further details of his identity and have ask for their privacy to be respected.
The death of the youngster has prompted outrage from campaigners and politicians as the Government faces mounting pressure of their handling of the Calais crisis ahead of this week’s UN summit on refugees.
Labour peer Lord Dubs said: “It’s disastrous this kid has been killed but sadly it is not surprising because the British Government continues to drag its heels. These children with family in the UK have homes to go to so there is no excuse for delays.”
While a small number of child refugees have been brought to Britain under family reunification laws, their cases have only been successful with the help of private intervention and there remains no state-funded system in place.
Meanwhile not a single child has been brought to Britain under the wider provisions of the “Dubs amendment” made to the immigration bill in May, despite more than 200 children living in Calais being eligible under the criteria.
The true scale of the crisis is revealed in the latest census of the Calais camp carried out by Help Refugees, which shows the population of the Jungle has increased by 12 per cent in the past month, topping 10,000 for the first time.
1,179 are children while the number of unaccompanied minors has increased by 51 per cent in the last month to 1,022. The youngest children living alone there are two eight-year-old boys.
Annie Gavrilescu, a field manager for Help Refugees, based in Calais, said: “There has been a huge increase in the number of unaccompanied children in the past few weeks and we are also seeing more unaccompanied girls than previously.”
She said the spike in numbers could be due to the closure of other refugee camps in Italy and France, and more children making the journey from Libya to Italy due to improved weather conditions.
Ms Gavrilescu said: "All they want is to reach their families and somebody in an office wearing a suit is preventing them from doing that by refusing to sign a bit of paper.”
She added: “All this time the Home Office and the French authorities are blaming each other and using these children as pawns – it’s disgusting politics.”
Labour’s refugee taskforce chair Yvette Cooper told The Independent: “The thought of eight-year-olds alone each night in the Calais camp should appal us all. Ministers know how bad this is. They have been warned again and again. There must be no more excuses or delays.”
Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband has also ramped up pressure on the Government by calling for Britain to take in “20,000 or 25,000” refugees a year – roughly four times the rate in the original pledge made by ministers a year ago of 20,000 by 2020.
Speaking ahead of UN summit on refugees on Sunday he said: “I think there is quite a lot of scope for Theresa May to come to the UN and to the Obama summit on Tuesday and say ‘look the UK has a really good record on international overseas aid... but we can also make a greater contribution beyond the six refugees per parliamentary constituency’.”
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