Lone refugee kids may fall prey to traffickers & rapists when Calais camp is bulldozed – UNICEF

© Yves Herman
Unaccompanied child migrants living in the Calais 'Jungle' camp are likely to go missing or risk being trafficked when France dismantles the shanty town, UNICEF has warned. It urged authorities to speed up the reunion of children with families in the UK.

The UN children's agency, UNICEF, warned that safeguards must be in place to protect lone children before the notorious camp is demolished by the end of the year.

“Before the bulldozers arrive, there must be robust plans to safeguard the hundreds of unaccompanied children currently stranded in the camp," UNICEF UK deputy executive director Lily Caprani said.

Referring to the February eviction of the southern part of the camp, Caprani warned that children will be at risk if the same “mistakes” happen again.

"If mistakes from the first eviction are repeated, we will see more children going missing, falling prey to traffickers and facing the winter without a home," she said in a statement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

UNICEF has also warned that unaccompanied child refugees face the possibility of rape, forced labor, beatings and death.

Caprani said the UK must work with France to get children into “appropriate accommodation,” where they can have access to care and legal support and reach their families in Britain safely.

The UK's current reunification policy has come under criticism from human rights groups, with more than 200 religious leaders recently calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to soften the strict rules and offer “fair and humane” reunification for refugees. 

Caprani's statements came just hours after French President Francois Hollande said that France will completely shut down the camp by the end of the year, and disperse migrants across the country.

"The situation is unacceptable and everyone here knows it," Hollande said during a visit to Calais. He said the camp must be dismantled “completely and definitively," and called on the UK to help deal with the migrant flow.

As many as 10,000 refugees live in squalor at the 'Jungle' camp, which is Europe's largest migrant slum. The northern half of the camp has seen a surge in residents since June, up from 4,500 to 7,000, according to local authorities. However, humanitarian groups put the number closer to 9,000.

Many of the refugees attempt to cross the English Channel into Britain by climbing onto lorries and trains using the Channel Tunnel. Police are permanently deployed in the area to prevent migrants from attempting the dangerous journey.

London and Paris have struck agreements on some issues surrounding the camp, including the construction of a giant wall – nicknamed the 'Great Wall of Calais' – on the approach road to the city's port. The concrete barrier is aimed at stopping migrants from entering the UK.

The construction has been slammed by human rights groups, with Amnesty International stating that it will merely force desperate people to seek more dangerous alternatives.

Despite agreeing on the construction of the wall, and the UK paying approximately £2 million (US$2.6m) toward the project, the two sides have long clashed over how much responsibility Britain should take for the Calais crisis.

While Hollande declared on Monday that he was determined “to see the British authorities play their part in the humanitarian effort that France is carrying out” by demolishing the camp, the UK said that “the dismantling of the camp in Calais [was] a matter for the French government.” It vowed, however, to support the French government as it transfers migrants, and to resettle "vulnerable children" with links to the UK.