UN watchdog slams UK & France for ‘completely disregarding’ plight of Calais child migrants

The British and French governments both showed negligence of their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the notorious Calais ‘Jungle’ migrant camp was demolished, the UN children’s rights watchdog has said.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) urged the UK and France “to urgently address the situation of unaccompanied children who had been forced to take shelter in disused shipping containers or sleep outside as the makeshift ‘Jungle’ camp was demolished.”

The committee also accused the two governments of falling “seriously short of their obligations,” in a statement published by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Wednesday.

The UN watchdog committee, which monitors the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, went on to say that “political and other considerations prevailed over” the two states’ promises to take care of unaccompanied minors stranded in the former Calais camp after it was demolished.

The disagreement between the UK and France over who should take responsibility for most of the children led to the “complete disregard” of their interests and “major violations” of their rights, the CRC stressed.

“Hundreds of children have been subjected to inhumane living conditions, left without adequate shelter, food, medical services and psychosocial support, and in some cases exposed to smugglers and traffickers,” it added.

The CRC also accused both countries of disregarding its previous recommendations concerning the treatment of unaccompanied minors, including stopping the detention of child asylum seekers, conducting age assessments “only in case of serious doubt” as well as “the obligation to respect children’s right to humane living standards.”

The UN body also denounced the current European migration system and policy by saying they are “neither developed nor implemented with child rights in mind.” It also urged the UK and France to “establish responsibility” for the violation of child asylum seekers’ rights so that “other children do not have to suffer a similar fate.”

Amnesty International also issued a similar statement on Wednesday in which it condemned the two nations for abandoning the children in conditions “which obviously put their safety and welfare at risk.”

A spat “between two of the richest nations in the world sends an appalling signal to other countries,” the charity continued, warning that “shirking responsibility for protecting refugees can only encourage others to shirk too.”

France moves minors out of Calais as charities warn they will return

In the meantime, France moved about 1,600 children from the site of the demolished ‘Jungle’ camp. The children that stayed in the area after the camp was dismantled last week were previously sheltered in converted shipping containers. 

The minors were moved to about 60 reception centers across France, where British Home Office officials and Border Force staff are expected to process their asylum requests. Most of the minors left in Calais are between 13 and 17 years old, French charity Care for Calais reports.

The issue is still fueling the feud between the UK and France over who should take responsibility for underage migrants. The EU has called on the UK to accept minors who have family ties in Britain, and French President Francois Hollande has also pressed the British government to take its share of responsibility for the fate of the children. The UK, however, insists France should take care of them.

Hollande promised this week that migrants would not return to Calais. Following the president’s statement, the prefect of the Pas-de Calais region said on Wednesday that the shipping container park would also be dismantled.

However, French charities warn that migrants, including minors, are likely to return and once again be stranded in the French port city.

"We fear many of the adolescents will come back to Calais. How will the state look after them? Will they be left to sleep in the street?" Christian Salome, head of Auberge des Migrants, told Reuters.

About a half of the underage migrants have already slipped away from children’s shelters in eastern and western France and are allegedly on their way back to Calais, the head of the France Terre d'Asile charity, Pierre Henry, told AFP.

"They want to return to Calais," he said.

The makeshift ‘Jungle’ camp had housed thousands of migrants over several years, but on October 27, French authorities announced that it had been successfully evacuated. The facility was then dismantled as more than 5,000 migrants and refugees were relocated to other centers across France.

However, it was later revealed that a number of refugees and migrants, including minors, remained at the site. French and British authorities then bickered over who should take care of the remaining minors left behind in the debris of the camp.

Meanwhile, a number of asylum seekers poured into Paris after the demolition of the camp, setting up tents on the streets of the French capital.