Baroness Jenkin speaks at Calais: Refugee Camp debate

Our Founder Baroness Jenkin spoke in the recent House of Lords debate on the refugee camp in Calais. Transcript from Hansard:

15 September 2016 Volume 774
Question for Short Debate

3.05 pm

Asked by

Lord Dubs

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the decision by the Government of France to dismantle the refugee camp in Calais on children living in the camp.

3.16 pm

Baroness Jenkin of Kennington (Con)

"My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for this debate and for his relentless campaigning on this subject.

I declare an interest as a board member of UNICEF UK, which arranged for me and my noble friends Lady Morris of Bolton and Lady Hodgson—neither of whom can be here today, sadly—to visit the refugee camp in Calais at the end of July. This was a trip facilitated by Citizens UK. I take this opportunity to thank it and the volunteers, not just for arranging the visit but for the wonderful work they do in the camp, especially their support for children. All the volunteers, including those working in the kitchens to feed the refugees, are doing amazing work. I also pay special tribute to the extraordinary Liz Clegg, who lives with those children in horrible circumstances. She has no background in humanitarian aid but is loving and caring, and is supported only by contributions from those who visit. We felt humbled by them all.

We too were shocked by what we saw and heard: children afraid to leave their tents during the day, in case everything they had was taken from them, while every night they risk their lives in trying to enter the UK illegally. We saw no government advice on the Dublin Ill family reunion process, or the provision in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Instead, those children are reliant on the relationships built by a small voluntary group formed by Citizens UK. We were told that before the intervention of these volunteers, children who have family members in the UK had no idea that there was a safe and legal way of being reunited with them.
It is difficult to discount the pull factor with regard to the broader stance on the French and European migrant crisis; indeed, we met a number who wished that they had not come and were trying to get the message home to others not to make the journey. But when it comes to unaccompanied children who are eligible under Dublin III we must take action, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said—and fast. I fear history is likely to be unkind to us if we do not. There is no valid reason for our Government to keep children in Calais when they have families in the UK ready to receive them, take on the responsibility and have a duty of care. This is distinct from opening the floodgates and being overwhelmed.

Let me give an example. Earlier this week, I met a volunteer who has been working in the Jungle. She met two such children in Calais: Huda, who is 14, and her brother Ibrahim, who is 16. They are Iraqi Kurds whose mother is in Birmingham and whose father was killed in 2005 by a bomb in Iraq. They became separated from their mother immediately after the bomb, in tragic circumstances, and left Turkey on their own last August—Huda having begged Ibrahim, as she was desperate to find her mother. My contact was heartbroken to see these children cold, vulnerable, upset and hungry. They were insulted and belittled by the CRS police in front of her eyes. She quickly raised £3,000, got them out of the camp and paid a local host family in Calais —themselves volunteers—to look after them while legal proceedings ensued. The process took over nine months and involved two separate tribunals, Home Office lawyers, UK lawyers, barristers, French lawyers, French care systems, DNA testing and hundreds of hours of correspondence before the UK finally took charge of the children. This example demonstrates the psychological trauma that so many children experience. The apparent inertia of the French and British authorities ultimately meant a greater cost to our taxpayer, while causing extreme emotional hardship on these children.

From a cost-benefit analysis—economically, politically, and socially—it seems that we should expedite processing Dublin III children. For those lacking UK family ties the solution is more complex, although a child’s safety should be paramount along with a concern for their future, be it in the UK, France or elsewhere.

I have three ideas for my noble friend the Minister to consider. When the previous camp demolition occurred, hundreds of children went missing. This makes it critical that the processing of these children is speeded up and that they are kept safe in appropriate accommodation during this period with access to the legal and social care they need. A group should be mandated to identify unaccompanied children with a legal right to be in the UK and to provide the legal advice they need to be processed. We should take on the traffickers and smugglers by ensuring that refugees are aware of their legal rights at the start of their journey as well as in Calais, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said.

Collectively our countries have achieved so much for humanity and have so much to be proud of, and it saddens me that there appears to be no solution to the plight of these desperate children in Calais."​