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Why We Can't Forget About The Refugees In Calais

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Photo: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images.
Earlier this month, the French government said it would dismantle the Calais refugee camp by the end of the year and move the refugees elsewhere, many of who hope to make the perilous trip to Britain.

But as discussions about the camp's demolition, otherwise known as the "Jungle", rumble on, the number of people seeking refuge there continues to rise.

According to a report by the charity Help Refugees, the camp's population increased by 12% in the last month – pushing it above the 10,000 mark for the first time, reported The Independent. Of these, 1,179 are children.

The number of unaccompanied children has also surged by 51% over the same period to 1,022, the charity said, with 11 arriving every day. The youngest lone children are two eight-year-old-boys.

In addition, an increasing number of the unaccompanied children are girls, Annie Gavrilescu, a field manager for Help Refugees, told The Independent.

Gavrilescu said the population surge could be attributed to the closure of camps in Italy and France, and improved weather conditions making it easier for children to make the journey from Libya to Italy.

"All they want is to reach their families and somebody in an office wearing a suit is preventing them from doing that by refusing to sign a bit of paper,” said Gavrilescu.

“All this time the Home Office and the French authorities are blaming each other and using these children as pawns – it’s disgusting politics.”

The report comes just days after the death of a 14-year-old Afghan boy, who was killed on a French motorway on Friday while trying to jump on a lorry heading to the UK. The unidentified boy, who had a legal right to asylum in the UK, was hoping to reach his uncle and two brothers.

He is thought to be the youngest victim to have died while trying to cross the border from Calais, but because children often travel alone it is believed some deaths could have gone unrecorded, reported The Independent.

The boy had already begun the legal process to be reunited with his family in the UK, but he had been left stuck in the Jungle for three months because of failures in the system. He had been "waiting so long he lost faith in the system and thought his only option was to risk his life in order to finally reach safety”, a spokesperson for Help Refugees said.

The charity said "he is likely to have experienced enormous hardship, police violence, hunger and poor mental health," like the other children who continue to languish in the camp.

"He would have felt he had no rights and that he was not worth the protection of any state. He could have been with his brother, he could have been in school, he could have been safe.

“Instead he is lying on a cold bed, having been identified by volunteers at the Refugee Youth Service.”

Politicians and campaigners have responded with sadness and outrage at what they see as a lack of action from the British government over the crisis in Calais.

Lord Dubs, a Labour peer who escaped Nazi Germany as a child, has been vocal about the UK's failure to take in sufficient numbers of child refugees. Responding to the child's death, he said: “It’s disastrous this kid has been killed but sadly it is not surprising because the British government continues to drag its heels," The Independent reported.

He added: "These children with family in the UK have homes to go to so there is no excuse for delays.”

Only a small number of child refugees have been allowed in to Britain under family reunification laws and there is still no state-funded system to help them.
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