LONDON, Oct 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday it welcomed plans to demolish a migrant camp in Calais in northern France, but raised fears lone children were at risk of trafficking if not adequately supported during the transition.
The ramshackle camp has become a symbol of Europe’s struggle to respond to an influx of migrants fleeing war and poverty and is home to more than 6,000 people dreaming of coming to Britain, just 21 miles (33 km) across the English Channel.
President Francois Hollande said last month that France would completely shut down “the Jungle” by the end of the year. The plan is to relocate migrants in small groups around the country, largely removing the option of forging a new life in Britain.
“This is welcome ... the Jungle site has been problematic for a number of years, and UNHCR has long recommended it be closed,” the agency’s spokesman Adrian Edwards said at a news briefing in Geneva.
“Living conditions are appalling, with the most basic shelter, inadequate hygiene facilities, very poor security and a lack of basic services.”
He said asylum seekers and migrants should be informed of when the dismantling would begin, and said the French government must organise appropriate accommodation for those leaving the camp.
Edwards said it was also crucial to ensure lone children in Calais were supervised during the demolition, as they are vulnerable to being trafficked, abused or exploited.
“This is important so that children don’t move on to other destinations and risk becoming exploited by human traffickers or end up living on the streets without any support,” he said in a statement, urging British authorities to reunite eligible children with their relatives in the UK.
An estimated 1,200 unaccompanied children are currently living in the Jungle, of which around 180 have been identified as having family ties to Britain.
Britain’s anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland has warned that children were turning to smuggling gangs rather than official routes to claim asylum or to join relatives in Britain as he called for ministers to do more to help lone youngsters.
On Monday, Britain's home secretary (interior minister) Amber Rudd said the UK would honour a commitment to take in migrant children from the camp and urged Paris to help speed up the process. (Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, global land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, women's rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories)