Britain to accept hundreds of child refugees as France clears Calais camp

© Yves Herman
Hundreds of unaccompanied refugee children are expected to start arriving in Britain in the next fortnight as France prepares to shut down the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp.

UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd told MPs that French authorities had agreed to verify in “a matter of days – weeks at most” a list of child refugees with a legal right to enter the UK.

“Once we have that official list we will move quickly within days and remove very quickly those children,” she said.

French bureaucracy, which has delayed the transfer of children to the UK, had been “urgently” addressed during a two-hour meeting on Monday with her French counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, she said.

“We will take children who have a right to be here,” she told MPs in the House of Commons.

“There is no stone unturned for this Government to assist the French.”

Rudd said the official effort would prioritize safeguarding children aged under 12 with “all speed and haste,” and as many children as possible with direct family links in Britain would be brought to the UK under the Dublin Convention before the camp is closed.

Charities estimate that there are 387 children in the Calais camp who are entitled to move to the UK, roughly half of whom have family members already in the country.

Labour MPs pressed Rudd to clarify how many of the 1,000 unaccompanied children in Calais the UK would take, but the Home Secretary refused to provide an exact figure.

She told the Daily Mail on Monday, however, that if 300 child refugees came to the UK it would be “a really good result.”

Rudd promised that bureaucracy would no longer hamper the government’s determination to help the lone child refugees in the camp. In London, a dedicated Home Office team has been set up within its “Dublin unit” to process the transfers, she said.

France has vowed to shut down the camp starting from next week. Charities say hundreds of children simply disappeared the last time there was a crackdown and warn the same could happen again.

The deal is not expected to cover the estimated 9,000 adult asylum seekers in the Calais camp who will instead be dispersed to other centers around France when the camp closes.

Adults with close family ties to Britain will have their claims transferred to the UK to be considered under the lengthy Dublin relocation process.

In a letter signed by Muslim and Jewish faith leaders and ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, the camp was described as “a stain” on the French and British conscience.

Last week, Unicef appealed to the British government to speed up the transfer of child refugees.