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Government urged to safely reunite refugee children in the EU with their families in the UK

Refugee family holding hands at camp site
Refugee family holding hands at camp site

Following the tragic and wholly avoidable death of a child refugee in the UK last Friday, only 14 miles from the Prime Minister’s Oxfordshire house, pressure grows on David Cameron to act. Campaigner and actress Juliet Stevenson is leading a call on the government to safely reunite refugee minors in the EU with their families in the UK. Today [7 April] a petition was launched on the website to demand that the government urgently step in and reunite child refugees in the EU with their families in the UK.

Muhammed Hassan was crushed in a traffic accident as he tried to reach his uncle in Manchester on 1 April. He had a legal right to come to the UK to be with his family while his asylum claim was processed, but no safe method of travelling here from Calais, where he had been living in the squalid conditions of the “Jungle”. He had travelled from Iraq – fleeing the violence of “Islamic State” – and was just 14 miles from the Prime Minister’s Oxfordshire house when he died. He was only 17 years old.

The Dublin III Treaty which governs EU asylum applications states that refugees must claim asylum in the first safe country they enter. However, Dublin III also says that refugees with nuclear family in a third country should claim asylum on entry to the EU and can then formally request that the third country “takes charge” of their asylum application. In practice, this rarely happens; not a single child made a successful take charge application from France to Britain from the time the system was established in 2013 to last month. Although this has started to change, thanks to the intervention of Citizens UK.

Citizens UK, together with a team of lawyers, religious leaders and volunteers, has been working to reunite children in the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp with their UK-based families, in line with their rights under Dublin III. Following legal action and public pressure, the first children were allowed into the UK from Calais last month. There have now been 10 children reunited with their families – although Citizens UK estimates that there are 150 children in Calais alone who are eligible to be reunited with their families under Dublin III regulations.

At present it falls to a couple of charities, Citizens UK and Help Refugees to bring the children from Calais over one by one. It should not fall to volunteers to work child by child stuck between two of the richest countries on earth. Today’s petition comes ahead Lord Dubs’ proposal to give sanctuary to 3,000 child refugees travelling alone into the UK, which is expected to be debated in parliament next week.

Juliet Stevenson , who initiated today’s petition, said: “These families have a full legal and moral right to be reunited. The Prime Minister must take personal responsibility for these tragedies which have now arrived at his doorstep. He must step in and ensure that all refugee children with family members in the UK across Europe are identified and supported to reunite with their loved ones with all possible urgency. Government must act and ensure clear information is given to these children in a language they understand, legal and psychiatric assessments and support are provided, family tracing and age verification processes are observed where required, and the family reunion process is completed with all possible haste.”

Rabbi Janet Darley of the South London Liberal Synagogue, spokesperson for Citizens UK, said: “While we are delighted that a few of the unaccompanied children from Calais are finally being rightfully reunited with their UK-based families, each stage of the process is still taking far too long. Children's lives are being put at risk as last weekend has sadly shown. The UK must speed up this reunification process to prevent further tragic deaths."

George Gabriel of Citizens UK said: “Friday’s tragic events show the consequences that child refugees face if they are not allowed safe passage to reach their families in the UK. No child, desperate to reach their family, should have to choose between traffickers on one hand and hiding in lorries on the other. It is unacceptable to leave children in tents in the mud in Calais waiting for the creaking wheels of bureaucracy to turn.”

The petition is available for the public to sign here. 

For further information on family reunification, and the story so far click here. 

Posted on 7 Apr, 2016