Up to 1,000 unaccompanied minors will be left to fend for themselves when the so-called jungle camp for refugees in Calais is bulldozed next month. The French authorities have made no plans to rehouse the children, the Observer has learned, because it is hoping to force Britain to honour a promise to help child refugees.
The French interior ministry has informed charities and aid organisations that it intends to destroy the camp in less than four weeks.
Almost 400 unaccompanied youngsters in the camp, some of whom have relatives in the UK, have already been identified as having a legal right to come to Britain.
In May, David Cameron announced that Britain would accept as many as 3,000 unaccompanied minors. James Brokenshire, immigration minister at the time, said Britain had “a moral duty to help”.
However, Home Office figures reveal that by mid-September, only 30 children had arrived under the scheme. The Home Office did not respond to queries over whether it intended to help lone child refugees once the Calais camp was destroyed.
On Monday President François Hollande is expected to visit Calais and confirm that the refugee camp will be demolished. Details emerged last week when refugee organisations were told that alternative accommodation elsewhere in France would be supplied for 9,000 adults and families.
However, because of a supposed lack of emergency capacity for unaccompanied minors, at least 850 children will be made homeless.
Josie Naughton of the charity Help Refugees said: “We are particularly concerned for the safety of the unaccompanied children and ask the authorities to ensure they are protected and accounted for. We also urge the UK government to make good on its pledge, as there is little time to act.”
Jess Egan of the Refugee Youth Service, which runs a safe area in the camp for many unaccompanied minors, expressed outrage at the development. “It’s really worrying – horrendous – that nothing has been put in place to help these children,” she said.
Emily Carrigan, who has been working at the unofficial women and children’s centre in the camp for nine months, said: “We’ve been told that there is accommodation provided, but not for unaccompanied minors, because they [the French] hope the UK will help.
“Who knows what will happen to them? They will scatter everyone, and we won’t be able to track them. They’ll disappear.”
The dismantling of parts of the camp earlier this year caused so much panic among unaccompanied children that many of them disappeared. One charity, Care4Calais, said that after an area of the site was cleared, 129 unaccompanied minors had vanished.
Charlie Whitbread of Care4Calais said he was looking to set up a system to track down lone child refugees after the camp was demolished.
“The plan is to remain active and help the small camps that will spring up across northern France afterwards,” he said.