THE humanitarian organisation Seeking Sanctuary has said that it is becoming increasingly concerned about the fate of more than a hundred children feared missing from the “Jungle” camp in Calais, after recent clearances by French authorities (News, 4 March).
A recent census by Help Refugees UK suggests that 129 children went missing during the clearance of the south of the camp, while hundreds of unaccompanied children as young as eight still remain.
Seeking Sanctuary said that, with a “greater and better co-ordinated” police effort, particularly around main railway stations, it would be possible to protect the children, and bring them to safety. If these actions are not taken, however, children may be at risk of abuse, exploitation, and trafficking, it warned.
A spokesman for Seeking Sanctuary, Ben Bano, said: “Police across Europe already have experience in tracking down children who are lost, or who have disappeared. We call on the British and French governments to work together in co-operation with European colleagues to protect these vulnerable children. It is the very least that should be expected of a civilised and humane society.”
An estimated 10,000 refugee children have disappeared in Europe, many of whom are feared to have fallen into the hands of people-smugglers. International law requires European countries to give refugee children the same protection as its own children.
The warning came in the wake of Pope Francis’s visit to the Greek island of Lesbos at the weekend. He spent five hours on the island on Saturday with the Archbishop of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Ieronymos II, meeting refugees. A service was held to bless the hundreds who have died trying to reach Europe.
The three religious leaders signed a joint declaration calling on the international community to “respond with courage in facing this massive humanitarian crisis, and its underlying causes, through diplomatic, political, and charitable initiatives”.
The Pope later took 12 Syrian Muslim refugees, including six children, back to the Vatican with him from Lesbos. “All refugees are children of God,” he said.
The families, who spent their first night at a Catholic charity in Rome, expressed their gratitude for the Pope’s “gesture of hope”, in an interview with the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa. The move has been viewed as a “clear message” to countries that have refused to participate in the EU relocation scheme.
Speaking on Sunday, Pope Francis said that he had been able to meet, individually, more than 300 refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, and North Africa residing in the camps. “So many of them were children,” he said. “I saw so much sorrow.”
The Senior Chaplain in Athens, Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, called the visit an “important expression of solidarity by the Christian Church with those who have been deeply traumatised” by the ongoing conflict in Syria and elsewhere.
“This gesture of Pope Francis and other church leaders,” he said on Tuesday, “is expressive of the day-to-generosity, concern, and sacrificial self-giving of local people in Greece, of NGOs, and the Churches in providing care for people whose situation is dire and not of their own making. However, such generosity and concern now requires ongoing back-up from right across Europe.”
Canon Bradshaw also warned that Greece was facing a second crisis — austerity — and that 48 per cent of the population were reported to be living below the poverty line. “Since January, 9000 small businesses have closed,” he said. “The Greek Orthodox Church provides 250,000 meals a day throughout Greece, 10,000 of which are given out in the archdiocese of Athens.”