THE Archbishop of Canterbury has joined charities and campaign groups in raising concerns for the welfare of hundreds of unaccompanied children in the Calais “Jungle” camp, after French authorities began dismantling the southern section amid violent protests this week.
The camp, which includes an Orthodox church, three mosques, a children’s centre, and three aid-distribution points, was due to be demolished on Wednesday, pending a legal challenge. Officials began taking down shelters, however, at 7 a.m. on Monday, with police back-up. Residents were told to leave within an hour, or face arrest.
Clashes broke out, tents were set on fire, and a British activist was arrested. Riot police fired teargas overnight after residents started throwing stones at demolition teams.
Speaking in the House of Lords on Tuesday, Archbishop Welby said that the situation in the camp was “significantly more difficult” for unaccompanied children, who should be removed “very quickly” by the Government. “Issues of compassion should easily trump issues of administrative efficiency and tidiness,” he said.
On Thursday the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, called on Christians to join in a minute of silent prayer on Sunday in response to the clashes. He said in a statement that there are “no quick fixes” to the crisis, and went on to reprimand the use of teargas in the presence of children. “God stands in the crowd enveloped by teargas, he sits in the barren landscape of bulldozed homes,” he said.
On Friday, 30 faith leaders issued a joint statement calling on the UK and French governments to “fulfil their moral and legal duties” to unaccompanied children in Calais.
Many of the leaders have also signed up to personally sponsor an unaccompanied child, visit them in France, and help to reunite them with family. The buddy system has been endorsed by celebrities and other public figures, including the actors Jude Law and Benedict Cumberbatch, and the author Michael Morpurgo.
It comes after the Prime Minister agreed with the French President, François Hollande, that children in the Calais camp with family members in the UK should be “swiftly and efficiently” reunited with their loved ones, on Thursday.
About 3400 people are estimated to have been affected by the eviction, including 300 unaccompanied children.
It was enforced after a French court ruled last week that the makeshift shelters could be destroyed, but that community hubs, such as churches, mosques, schools, and medical centres, must remain.
Citizens UK said in a briefing on Monday that there were hundreds of unaccompanied minors in the camp who had close family in the UK, and therefore the right, under the Dublin III Regulation, to have their asylum applications considered by the Government (News, 22 January). The “best option” for those without this connection was to enter the child-protection system in France.
The campaign group is calling on the UK and French authorities to identify actively Dublin III cases and encourage eligible minors to apply for asylum in France.
The Caritas Social Action Network said last week that it was “vital” that these children be reunited with family members. The Christian charity Seeking Sanctuary agreed that governments and European authorities should decide what should happen to people in Calais while the “answer to the refugee crisis” is debated.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, wrote in a blog this week that the Church should be providing the “welcoming flesh on the bones” to the organising bodies supporting the resettlement of refugees fleeing Syria.
Parishes could provide “premises, or money, or a friendly welcome” to vulnerable people in “extreme need”, he suggested.
Clashes also broke out on the Greek-Macedonian border on Monday. Macedonian police fired teargas as 500 refugees surged forward and broke through a fence at the small town of Idomeni, where more than 6000 were stranded.
The Greek government warned that up to 70,000 migrants and refugees could be stranded in the country in the coming month, and that Greek armed forces would probably be deployed to tackle the crisis.
European leaders have since called for urgent action to support Greece.