Yvette Cooper: Children still at Calais risk ‘disappearing’ into hands of smugglers
Children could “just disappear” into the hands of people smugglers as the so-called Jungle camp at Calais is demolished, Yvette Cooper has warned.
The Home Affairs Select Committee chair argued Britain may have left efforts to bring unaccompanied children to the UK “far too late”, with “hundreds” still in the camp as bulldozers are poised to move in.
There was violence in Calais overnight as French authorities prepare to close the site, with buses used to transport the camp’s near 7,000 residents to reception centres across France.
The first group of unaccompanied children without family ties to the UK arrived in Britain over the weekend under the Dubs amendment, which grants refuge to the most vulnerable minors.
Ms Cooper welcomed efforts to bring in children with and without familial links in the UK before the camp's closure, but this morning told the Today programme:
"There are children and teenagers who have family in the UK who could be looking after them… they are still stuck in Calais today.
“That’s what’s really worrying, because once the clearances start we know that there is a significant risk that many of those children and young people just disappear.
“That is what happened last time when part of the camp was closed without a plan for the children and teenagers.
“The consequences; they slip into the hands of the smuggler gangs and traffickers, and just at the point where they might have been able to be reunited with their family, then they are lost.”
She went on: “There are also other children. We passed the Dubs Amendment in parliament back in May, so that Britain could do its bit to help lone child refugees, for example the more than 50 teenage girls from Eritrea, who will have undoubtedly faced all kinds of sexual exploitation and abuse as part of being trafficked. And it’s right that Britain should be doing our bit to help some of those teenage girls.
“But we know there are many more who could be helped as part of the Dubs Amendment, but again they’re not being assessed and we don’t know what the plan is for them.”
Ms Cooper added: “I’m really worried that Britain left this far, far too late to do its bit in terms of helping with children and teenagers.”
Authorities will begin dismantling makeshift homes at the camp in Calais tomorrow. Ms Cooper contended that arrangements for children still at the site had not yet been made.
"There are still hundreds of children and teenagers stuck in the camp and the French authorities have not put in place proper alternatives of places for the children to go that are safe and that’s why I think it’s right that Britain should be doing its bit as well,” she told the same programme.
The Government has called for as many unaccompanied children with family ties to the UK as possible to be transferred to Britain before the camp’s closure.
Charity group Citizens UK estimates around 200 children have reached Britain since last week.
Labour peer Lords Dubs’ amendment to the Immigration Bill, lodged in April, ensured that unaccompanied child refugees without family links can now be brought to the UK.
Last weekend’s arrivals, thought to include around 70 of the most vulnerable boys and girls, were taken to the Home Office building in Croydon, South London.