Britain urged to take in 400 children from Calais camp


In a vigil on Friday marking the first anniversary of the drowning of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi, campaigners urged the British government to take in almost 400 unaccompanied children stranded in the so-called Jungle camp in northern France.

An image of three-year-old Kurdi's lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach last year sparked global outrage and drew attention to the plight of children fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

In the Calais camp, hundreds of child migrants have ended up living in squalid conditions.

Campaign group Citizens UK called on Amber Rudd, Britain's home secretary, or interior minister, to accept 387 children it says are eligible for asylum in Britain.

Relatives of children in the Jungle, a squalid, sprawling encampment near the port of Calais, celebrities including actresses Vanessa Redgrave and Juliet Stevenson as well as religious leaders and politicians took part in the event.

"We are only talking about fewer than 400 children,"  Stevenson said in a statement. "How can it be argued that Britain cannot cope in providing new homes for these children?"

Citizens UK says 178 of the children it says are eligible for asylum have the right to come to Britain under an EU "Dublin" rule because of their close family links to the country. According to the Home Office, more than 120 under-18s have been accepted for transfer from Europe this year.

"Our priority is to protect the best interests of children who are in need of our help," a Home Office spokesman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email. "We continue to work closely with the French government to ensure that children in Calais with family links in the UK are identified, receive sufficient support and can access the Dublin family reunification process without delay," he added.

Europe is grappling with its worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. In 2015, nearly 96,000 lone children sought asylum in the European Union, almost four times as many as the previous year, according to the European Asylum Support Office.

In January, the EU's criminal intelligence agency Europol said at least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees had vanished after arriving in Europe, at risk of falling prey to trafficking gangs.    (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

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