Britain’s shame over child refugees

by Daphne Liddle

AROUND 1,500 child refugees from the newly demolished “Calais Jungle” camp were completely abandoned for three days as the French and British governments denied responsibility for their care.

So far Britain has accepted just over 270 unaccompanied refugee children who have relatives already in this country. This is a drop in the ocean of the huge tide of refugees accepted by other European countries and many of those trying to get to Britain, through Calais, do have some contacts in Britain.

The French authorities have long regarded these refugees as Britain’s responsibility and the Calais Jungle as a health and safety hazard.

Last week the French authorities, using emergency powers, started the demolition of the camp. Most of the adults were driven away and have found their way to Paris. They are now sleeping on the streets of the French capital that are likely to become part of a new “Paris Jungle”.

That left around 1,500 unaccompanied children still in Calais with nowhere to go. The French authorities provided them with some empty shipping containers for shelter that was more secure than the shanties and tents they had been sleeping in. Most were teenagers between 12 and 17 but a few were much younger.

But no food or water was laid on except by charities working there. For three days they remained while French President François Hollande clamoured for Britain to take at least another 1,000 child refugees.

This raised the hopes of many of the children, so that when, on the third day, the French authorities softened and a fleet of buses arrived to move them out in groups to reception centres all around France, many thought they were setting off for Britain to be united with their relatives. They were bitterly disappointed.

The children were given no choice of where they were being taken but groups of friends and children from the same country of origin were allowed to stay together.

Two British immigration officers were put on each bus, at the request of the French authorities, to convince the children that Britain had rejected them and that it was not the French government that was preventing them going to Britain.The actions of Theresa May’s government are all the more shameful after it ignored an offer by Queens Park Rangers football club to provide a fleet of coaches with social workers on board to bring the children to Britain if only the Government would sort out the paperwork.

Both the French and the British governments share much of the responsibility for the refugee crisis through imperialist interventions, bombings and invasions of Middle Eastern and African countries have led to endless wars, collapse of some governments and chaos that has made these countries unsafe to live in.

Millions of refugees have fled Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria — even more millions of refugees are still in these countries, homeless and destitute in their own lands.

Volunteers in Calais had put up a large sheet of paper on the fences around the shipping containers where refugees spent their last night in the camp, so departing asylum seekers could write messages.

They wrote: “We are not toys to play with. We are kids. We need lives” one message said. Another said: “Never give up. Going to the UK.”