Calais Jungle child refugee with aunt in UK still languishing in France two years on

Exclusive: Home Office accused of ‘playing games’ with Eritrean teenager’s life as he remains stranded in France with deteriorating physical and mental health two years on from Jungle closure

The teenager is ‘both physically ill and depressed’ after being in northern France for two years unable to reunite with his British aunt
The teenager is ‘both physically ill and depressed’ after being in northern France for two years unable to reunite with his British aunt

A former Calais Jungle child refugee who was unlawfully refused safe passage to join his aunt in Britain is still languishing in France two years on from the closure of the shantytown.

The Home Office has been accused of failing unaccompanied minors as it continues to block the young Eritrean national, whose physical and mental health is deteriorating, from reuniting with his relative in the UK.

Lawyers representing the boy said that the UK government was “playing games” with his life by failing to act swiftly and grant him the right to join his aunt in Britain.

The teenager, an orphan who recently turned 18 and cannot be named for legal reasons, applied under the “expedited process” to join his British aunt in the UK in October 2016 following the Jungle demolition.

But his application was rejected by the Home Office – a decision which along with many others has since been ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal.

Following the negative decision, the child left the French shelter he was taken to and returned to Calais, where he became street homeless and subsequently contracted tuberculosis and pneumonia. He has since been diagnosed with PTSD.

The boy, who is referred to as JMB in court, spent several weeks being treated in hospital and is now staying at an accommodation centre in the north of France. Staff at the centre said he was “both physically ill and depressed” and was losing weight as a result of being unable to come to Britain.

When his aunt travelled from the UK to visit him in April, he seemed to “come alive for the first time”, according to a social worker, who also expressed concern that “he would deteriorate again if he were not allowed to join her in the UK”.

 

Speaking from the centre, JMB said: “It feels endless being in this place, there is no time limit to this situation, they always come up with something else to delay the case. I cannot see any future, I do not see any hope.

“One of the things I want to do in my life is to spend a lot of time with my aunt, try to make up for the time that we were separated. I also want to carry out my education, study English. At the moment, I am focused on getting there and then I will dream more.”

Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said the case demonstrated “the truly shocking and sad reality” of the government’s hostile environment, adding: “Their failure to meet our obligations under the Dubs scheme has left child refugees in an increasingly vulnerable situation.”

In June, after lawyers from Bhatt Murphy Solicitors lodged legal proceedings on the child’s behalf, the Home Office said he would be “swiftly” transferred to the UK to join his aunt, but that he must first claim asylum in France.

But a month after the French authorities registered his asylum claim and made a request for the UK to accept him for transfer so he could join his aunt, the young man is still waiting, prolonging the two years of uncertainty and causing him “serious distress”, according to his solicitor.

JMB is said to have left Eritrea aged 15 to avoid persecution, and experienced being kidnapped, beaten and starved during his journey to Europe. He witnessed people drown when the boat he crossed the Mediterranean in almost sank.

A mental health assessment for the boy states: “Mentally and physically, his health appears to have deteriorated since at least his arrival in France, culminating in his contracting tuberculosis and pneumonia last summer and being hospitalised for several weeks.”

It adds that he is “very underweight and this is worsening” and that “current symptoms of mental illness have a severe impact on his mood, his ability to eat and to interact socially”.

The report continues: “There are high immediate risks of him resuming attempts to join his aunt via clandestine means, despite the inherent dangers and risks of further police assaults involved, and the fact that his aunt has urged him not to do so.”

Hamish Arnott, JMB and his aunt’s solicitor at Bhatt Murphy, said: “It feels as though the Home Office is playing games with JMB who has now been waiting for over two years to join his aunt in the UK.

“JMB complied with the Home Office’s expedited process after the demolition of the Calais Jungle yet, as the courts have found, was subject to an unfair process and was unfairly refused transfer to reunite with his aunt.

“He was then told, after we lodged legal proceedings on his behalf, that all he had to do was claim asylum in France, that the UK had already secured France’s agreement to make a request for him to be transferred to the UK to join his aunt, and that the Home Office would process that request swiftly.

“It has now been over four weeks since France made that request while he waits on tenterhooks. The Home Office is treating him unfairly once again in failing to stick to their promise to decide his request quickly. This is causing my extremely vulnerable young client serious distress.”

Beth Gardiner-Smith, chief executive of Safe Passage, which has been supporting JMB, said: “After refusing JMB under a process later found to be unlawful, the Home Office should be acting quickly to reunite him with his aunt. Instead, he was left homeless in Calais, suffering from severe trauma.

“Having promised to act expeditiously the Home Office is now stalling. JMB has suffered over two years of limbo and distress trying to reunite with his aunt. We’re urging the ministers to now keep their promise, expedite his case and finally reunite this family.”

Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson, said the case was “yet another tragic consequence of the Home Office’s toxic culture”.

“The Tories are failing to uphold Britain’s commitment to child refugees, leaving vulnerable young people homeless and unprotected,” he added.

Sarah Jones, MP for Croydon Central, said: “Children who have fled war and persecution remain trapped for years in a living nightmare in countries they thought would be safe.

“I’ve seen with my own eyes the hostile environment these young unaccompanied children are facing. Children need to be with their family – nobody would deny that basic right – so why is the government not acting?”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “All asylum claims are considered on their individual merits and in accordance with the immigration rules.”

It said they does not routinely comment on individual cases or ongoing legal proceedings.

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