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Refugee children in France being sexually exploited and forced into crime by traffickers, says Unicef

Charity workers say they hear 'horror stories' daily from the Calais Jungle camp

Gabriel Samuels
Tuesday 14 June 2016 08:15 BST
Children walk through the migrants camp of Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk
Children walk through the migrants camp of Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk (AFP/Getty)

Refugee children are being sexually exploited and forced to work tirelessly by traffickers in northern France, an extensive report by Unicef is to reveal.

Young people from Syria and Libya told the charity they suffer a range of abuses at camps in Dunkirk and Calais, including being coerced into performing sex acts on traffickers and forced to commit crimes.

The research takes the form of a series of interviews conducted over the course of six months and will be published in full on Thursday.

Bilal (not his real name) a 16-year-old boy from Daraa, Syria, was stuck in a camp without his family for seven months and told Unicef about the conditions he and his brother were held in.

“The worst part of my journey was being in Calais because most people there were subjected to violence and humiliation,” he said.

“Every day people would try to find ways of leaving. My friends and I tried to get on a train to get away – I saw two friends die under that train.”

The charity reports there are at least 157 unaccompanied children living in the Calais Jungle camp who are waiting to be reunited with their families in the UK.

Lliana Bird, co-founder of the charity Help Refugees, told The Independent from Calais: “We do get these kinds of reports from refugee children fairly often, which is extremely worrying.

“We hear all sorts of horror stories about how they are treated in the camps, many of which are too horrific to even detail.

“It all goes to reinforce the point we are making – unaccompanied minors are the most vulnerable people in Europe right now, and it's up to the government to put proper registration systems in place to give children safeguards against this kind of exploitation.”

This afternoon Theresa May will face questions from MPs about progress made on the government’s promise to accelerate the passage of unaccompanied child refugees to the UK.

Unicef has today published an open letter to the Home Secretary from four boys reunited with their families in the UK, which can be found below.

In April, Help Refugees revealed 129 unaccompanied minors had gone missing from the Calais Jungle shortly after the site was demolished, and more than 10,000 over the past two years across Europe.

There are around 4,946 at the Calais refugee camp, around 500 of whom are children.

An open letter to Theresa May from four Syrian refugee boys

Dear Home Secretary,

We are the children you see on the dangerous boats to Europe, torn from our families by war.

We’re the children you see living through hell in ‘The Jungle’ in Calais. We will never forget those horrific months.

Now, we’re the lucky few. After months of worrying and waiting, we have finally been reunited with our families in the UK. But our friends are still suffering in Calais, facing more and more danger every day, even though they have a right to be here with their families.

Only you can take our friends out of danger. If you had 10 more staff working to reunite children with their families, all of the 157 children who are alone in Calais right now – and, like us, have family living in the UK – could be here in time to start school in September.

In the past three weeks, more than 100,000 people have joined Unicef UK and Citizens UK in calling on you to reunite children with their families in the UK as quickly as possible. Among them are children, parents, MPs, and high-profile people including Michael Sheen, Andy Murray and Sir Chris Hoy. It means so much to know that all of these people in the UK are speaking up for child refugees like us. Please listen to them.

Some people have a negative view of refugees, but we just want a second chance of living a happy life with our families and away from war. We are glad and thankful to you that we are now safe with our families in the UK. Please help the other children in Calais – along with those in Italy, Greece and elsewhere – by letting them be with their families.

Yours sincerely,

Bilal, 16, from Syria

Hasan, 16, from Syria

Moussa, 17, from Syria

Mohamed, 17, from Syria

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