6th July 2016
The terrible dangers faced by unaccompanied children in camps in northern France were the subject of an event in the European Parliament in Strasbourg hosted by UNICEF.
UNICEF spent four months speaking to children living in the camps and slums along the coast of the English Channel. They interviewed with 60 children between the ages of 11-17.
At this event they presented their findings, revealing the traumas unaccompanied children have suffered on their journeys, the horrific and dire living conditions they are exposed to in the camps, and the continuous risks they are taking to be reunited with family members. Children experience sexual exploitation, violence and forced labour on a daily basis in the camps.
Jean Lambert MEP is vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s intergroup on children’s rights. Speaking at the event she called on both the UK and French authorities governments to realise and act on their responsibilities – so that volunteers and charities don’t have to step in.
“I would really love this year to be the year that governments take their responsibilities,” she said.
A full transcript of Jean’s speech at the UNICEF ‘Neither safe nor sound’ event can be found below.
“What we’ve seen in the Calais areas – coming from both the French and the British governments – is an emphasis on deterrent. There has been a situation there now for years and yet we still seem to believe that it will go away if we don’t provide any support for these people; that facilities are pull-factors – if you have decent facilities more people will come. Every so often you go in, you tear the camps apart, people disperse, then they come back and we start this saga again.
Everyone here would agree about the lack of a consistent leadership. Because at times in Calais we have seen a local authority that wants to do something, and a regional authority that won’t let them. Or the central government in Paris steps in. Or UNHCR steps in.
So it has always shocked me – the lack of services there, the lack of money to provide services, and the way that the British have been very happy to see bigger and bigger fences with little resources to actually work with the French government to really try and provide a solution for the people on the ground whether that’s unaccompanied children or adults.
Access to information is crucial. All the legislation we now have in place sets out the responsibilities for governments in all our countries to produce information in a language which an asylum-seeker can reasonably be expected to understand. The information part of it is crucial so asylum-seekers are aware of their rights.
You were asking questions about why nobody registers and takes responsibility for registration. In the Parliament recently we’ve been looking at the question of missing children, the missing minors that register somewhere then disappear and nobody seems to know where they are. The figures are the biggest they’ve ever been – up to about 10,000. And one of the things is that when we put the EU’s ‘Dublin’ asylum system together, children under 14 were not to be registered. We were very clear we didn’t want them treated like criminals so this is why under 14s are not in the system. And then of course Dublin has become its own prison where people do not wish to be registered because if they are registered they are stuck. So if you register in Greece, back you go to Greece. If you register in Poland, back you go to Poland. And so you play this game with people in Dublin of ‘it’s not our responsibility, it’s yours’. People learn not to register. If your fingerprints are taken your chances of getting where you want to go disappear. So this is why we need a revision of the Dublin system to give asylum-seekers a choice about where they can be.
The work that Citizens UK has been doing to make governments realise and act on their responsibilities has, I think, been really inspiring. Because this is the responsibility governments have had for a very long time…I’m trying to think of a polite word…and they have not carried out their responsibilities.
It’s for all of us in the European Parliament, to make sure the system that we have works. We need to work at both the French and the British sides to create joint pressure. We do do it from time to time. I’ve got my colleagues in the British parliament to table the same question as being put in the French parliament by senators here, to try and squeeze.
I would really love this year to be the year that governments take their responsibilities, and NGOs can act as volunteers and not the agencies.”