Refugee children sleeping rough on site of destroyed Calais Jungle - three days after camp was 'cleared'

'Every single night we have seen children having to go back into the jungle when it is the most dangerous it has ever been. This process from start to finish has really failed children'

Charlotte England
Saturday 29 October 2016 18:35 BST
(AFP/Getty Images)

Refugees, including children, are still sleeping on the site of the Calais Jungle camp, despite authorities reporting it had been completely cleared three days ago.

According to humanitarian organisations and volunteers, at least a dozen children were sleeping rough at the beginning of Friday night and three had still not been found shelter by morning. A group of at least 30 refugees reportedly spent the night in a burnt out and half-demolished church on the razed camp grounds.

Charity workers said they had been forced to spend every night since the demolition began ringing round shelters trying to find accommodation for children who the authorities had failed to house.

Calais 'Jungle' exodus: Charity boss likens refugee treatment to Nazi persecution

On Thursday night, aid workers said some children slept in a makeshift school building in the dismantled camp, but on Friday the structure was destroyed by bulldozers.

The children were supposed to be taken to a reception centre in another part of the country but were reluctant to board a bus because of their deep distrust of the French authorities. The bus did not wait and left the children behind, with no alternative provision made for them.

"It was difficult to get children on to buses because they didn’t have much faith in the system," said Dorothy Sang, a humanitarian adviser at Save the Children. "They didn’t believe that their cases would be followed up if they were taken out of Calais."

Instead, Ms Sang said, most children wanted to go to a temporary container camp that has been erected within the city. Around 1,500 unaccompanied minors have been moved there since Monday and told their claims will be accessed before they are sent to reception centres elsewhere in France, or to other European countries, including the UK. But the container camp is full, the French authorities have said.

Access to the container site is being restricted, with most charities kept out entirely. But according to grassroots non-profit Help Refugees, authorities are relying on a group of aid organisations to distribute food to people inside the containers. The French government are not delivering supplies to refugees themselves, the organisation alleged, but will only allow aid groups minimal access to the site at certain times.

Volunteers in Calais said they believed the children inside had not been provided with youth workers; the only adults working with them were thought to be security guards and police.

Meanwhile, charities are struggling to find accommodation for children who did not make it into the containers, and others who have arrived in the town in the last few days only to find the jungle gone and to be told the French authorities would not house them because they did not have space.

With nowhere else to go, many have returned to the dangerous ruins of the Jungle. Some children have even been directed there by French authorities.

"They were saying it was completely cleared by Wednesday, which was just not true," Ms Sang told The Independent. "There have been children sleeping rough pretty much every single night since.

She added: "Every single night we’ve had a situation where we’ve had to ring round children's shelters to see if there were spaces, and often only managed to get a handful of spaces".

Fires ravaged the camp on Thursday and Friday, scattering the refugees who remained.

"On Friday we managed to get everyone who had been there [in the Jungle] out, but some children had run away after the fire and been staying in other parts of Calais, they may have gone back," Ms Sang said.

"Unfortunately the authorities are taking no responsibility for the children since the demolition."

Volunteers report the Jungle has never been a safe place for children, who are particularly at risk of violence, including sexual assault. Now the emptiness makes it more dangerous than it has ever been before.

Migrants gather around a bonfire to warm up in the 'Jungle' migrant camp in Calais (Getty)

One long-term volunteer wrote in a post on Facebook: "As you may not want to know, there have been many children raped in the jungle, the jungle was a great community but also a hunting ground for paedophiles.

"Lone kids have been snatched from their shelters and raped, the danger during eviction multiplies exponentially as communities are dispersed and networks of mutual aid torn apart, together with the buildings that physically hosted them. Yet yesterday kids were told to go back and sleep in the burning Jungle."

Ms Sang said she had seen terrified, exhausted, ill, and injured teenagers forced to sleep alone in the ruined camp. Registering to enter the container area was difficult she said, with registration only possible for a short time.

"Let me tell you about another Afghan boy, aged 15, who started queuing at 4am, then fainted," she wrote in a blog post. "Or the Eritrean boy who attempted to register on four occasions, and whose shelter was broken into and all of his stuff stolen while he queued.

"This doesn’t cover the many children we know had to be treated for crush injuries. Or the children for whom we couldn’t find a safe place to sleep last night and who were taken in by one of the community mosques in the Jungle - only to watch that go up in flames."

French authorities have so far not admitted any fault with regards to the clearing of the camp. On Saturday, president Francois Hollande said Britain should help by taking more children.

On Thursday, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd reminded the French authorities of their duty to “properly protect” children in the Jungle. The Home Secretary spoke to her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve “to stress the need for children who remain in Calais to be properly protected”.

calais-1.jpg, by Megan Townsend (Reuters)

A Home Office spokesperson said:“[The Home Secretary] reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to working with the French to make sure all minors eligible to come to the UK continue to be transferred as quickly as possible.

“Any child either not eligible or not in the secure area of the camp should be cared for and safeguarded by the French authorities. We understand specialist facilities have been made available elsewhere in France to ensure this happens.”

Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, rejected the suggestion France was not doing enough. "These people...had been planning to migrate to the United Kingdom," he said in a statement, insisting France "had fulfilled its responsibilities out of solidarity and without trying to shy away" from its duty.

But Ms Sang said the camp demolition had put children in severe danger.

She catalogued serious failings, from the "unclear registration" process, to "allowing the bulldozers to go in before accounting for where they would be placed", and the "endless evenings when the only people looking for accommodation for the children who hadn’t been put in the container camp were humanitarian organisations and volunteers on the ground".

"Every single night we’ve seen children having to go back into the jungle when it’s been the most dangerous it's ever been," she said. "I think this process from start to finish has really failed children."

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