The fates of more than 1,000 refugee children are “hanging in the balance” after the British Government ended the current phase of transfers from France to the UK, campaigners have said.
A final group of 79 children who lived in the Calais Jungle was due to take place on Friday, bringing the total number who have arrived in Britain to at least 500 since the camp was demolished in October.
The vast majority are believed to have family members in the UK, giving them the right to be reunited under the EU Dublin Regulation, while the remainder were resettled under an Immigration Act amendment proposed by Lord Alf Dubs, who came to Britain as a child refugee from Nazi Germany.
“I’m dismayed to learn that the emergency transfer scheme is to cease having only just begun,” he said.
“Had the bridge been pulled up so soon after the start of the Kindertransport, through which my life was saved, many of us would never have made it to Britain.”
Lord Dubs urged the Government to continue work to shut down people trafficking and protect the most vulnerable migrants and refugees trying to reach the UK.
The Citizens UK group said hundreds of refugee children who remain in French centers have a right to reach Britain either under EU law or the Dubs amendment.
Members warned that any delay in transfers could fuel the emergence of more refugee camps in northern France as people risk their lives to cross the English Channel by jumping on lorries, trains or ferries.
“Desperate children will not stop trying to reach their families here in Britain,” said Rabbi Janet Darley, a spokesperson for Citizens UK, said.
“By closing the door once again the Home Office will leave hundreds no choice but to head back to Northern France to risk their lives.
“The alternative to the safe and legal routes, that these children are entitled to, are unsafe and illegal ones - train tracks on the one hand and people traffickers on the other hand.”
Bishop Jonathan Clark said news of the sped up transfers ending would be “welcomed by no one but the people traffickers of Calais who make a terrible living out of the failure of British and French authorities to honour their obligations”.
The Refugee Youth Service (RYS) warned last month that a third of the children it was tracking in October had already gone missing, prompting grave concerns for their wellbeing.
They were among around 1,700 children who were moved from the Jungle to state care on 2 November.
Amber Rudd previously warned that British authorities would not accept any new unaccompanied minors arriving in Calais after the clearance started.
The Home Secretary told MPs that no new arrivals would be considered over fears of encouraging more children to make the perilous journey to the French port.
“Through this process it is important we do not encourage more children to head to Calais, risking their lives in the hands of traffickers,” she added.
“That's why we will only consider those present in the camps before the start of clearances of the operation.”
Stand Up to Racism campaigners were planning to send a delegation to Calais in support of thousands of refugees still living around the French port on Saturday.
The Home Office said only the “current phrase” of transfers started as a consequence of the Jungle’s demolition had stopped, as part of plans drawn up with French authorities.
Robert Goodwill, the minister for immigration, said more than 750 refugee children have arrived in the UK so far, with many reunited with family members and other cared for by local authorities.
“The remaining children are safe and in the care of the French authorities,” he added.
“The Dubs process has not ended. More eligible children will be transferred from Europe, in line with the terms of the Immigration Act, in the coming months and we will continue to meet our obligations under the Dublin Regulation.”
Officials said the Government needed to insure that the number of children taken was “in line with available local authority capacity” but did not specify any limit on numbers.
More than 4,700 refugees have died attempting treacherous sea journeys to Europe this year – the deadliest on record – and many more have died attempting to enter Britain by jumping on lorries, trying to walk through the Channel Tunnel or swim across.
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