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Family Reunification - The story so far

Citizens UK, the national community organising charity, working 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.


  • The Dublin III Treaty governs EU asylum applications and says that refugees must claim asylum in the first safe country they enter. In practice this means that states use Dublin III to deport refugees back to the frontier of Europe. 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 since the system was established in 2013.
  • The main barriers to the effective functioning of these provisions in France are the 3 month wait for a minor to be assigned a legal guardian and subsequent 6 month wait for their claim to be lodged and a take charge request issued. The minors are also deeply distrustful of the French authorities, live in highly dangerous and unstable conditions, and then have to contend with the very high standards of evidence the Home Office requires to accept the request to take charge.
  • Islington Law Centre, Bhatt Murphy and Citizens UK worked together to bring the cases of four Syrian boys to court in the UK in January. The court ruled that because of their right to family life they were entitled to be reunited with their loved ones while their asylum applications are considered in Britain. The court decided that rather than proceeding through the full and formal “take charge” process it would be sufficient, given the conditions in Calais, for the lawyers to write to the French authorities claiming asylum and that on receipt of proof of this the Home Office should admit them to the UK.
  • In recent weeks French lawyers took France to court to trigger a faster release of take charge requests, but no institutional remedy has been established to make this the norm. Meanwhile the Home Office has successfully sought permission to appeal the January decision and refused two subsequent take charge requests released via the expedited issuance following the French courts. However, on 21 March for the first time, children were reunited with their families in the UK following the Home Office accepting take charge requests. So far, 10 children from Calais have been reunited with their families in this way. Citizens UK have over 70 such live cases. We are extremely concerned that these children will be dispersed following moves to demolish sections of the camp and will be lost to the teams working to reunite them with their families.
  • We estimate that there are around 150 children in Calais who have a legal right to come to the UK to claim asylum under Dublin III.



November 2015

In November, trained Citizens UK volunteers travelled to the ‘Calais Jungle’ and screened over 250 cases of refugees with potential legal claims to asylum in the UK, 50 of which were from Syrians. A team of lawyers then acted on behalf of a number of the claimants to progress their claims through the UK Courts.

January 2016

In January, following a legal case supported by Citizens UK, three Syrian children and a mentally-ill young adult were granted permission by the UK Courts to travel from the ‘Calais Jungle’ to the UK legally, to be with their UK-based families while their asylum claims are processed. Citizens UK announced that they believe many more refugees in Calais have a lawful entitlement to have their cases considered by the UK.

February 2016

Citizens UK have carried out further screening and currently believe that around 150 children in the Calais ‘Jungle’ have potential legal claims to asylum in the UK.

Celebrities including Juliet Stevenson, Michael Morpurgo and Brian Eno signed up to a new buddy system to help reunite unaccompanied minors in Calais with their families in the UK. The buddy system is a collaboration between Citizens UK, Help Refugees, Good Chance Calais and Letters Live.  Each public figure (“buddy”) has committed to personally support an unaccompanied child in Calais. This will ensure the children are not lost to the humanitarian and legal support they need in order to access their right to reach their loved ones. Each buddy will speak out on behalf of their child; visit them in Calais or visit their families in the UK and contribute towards their legal and humanitarian costs.

Public figures who have signed up to the buddy system include:

Ali Smith & Sarah Wood, Andrew O’Hagan, Anoushka Shankar and Joe Wright, Azzi Glasser, Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter, Brian Eno, Clare and Michael Morpurgo, Dominic West and Catherine Fitzgerald, Elif Shafak, Georgia Byng and Guy Pratt, Gillian Anderson, Jamie Byng, Jonathan Clark (Bishop of Croydon), Jude Law, Juliet Stevenson, Kirkland Newman Smulders, Laura Bailey, Mariella Frostrup, Mark Cousins, Michael and Caroline Kuhn, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Shappi Khorsandi, Sir Christopher and Jennie Bland, Stephen Daldry, Tracey Seaward.

Buddies have committed to the following actions:

1.         Writing a letter to the Prime Minister, French President, and the Head of the Family Reunion units on behalf of the child in question, urging the authorities to swiftly reunite them with their loved ones

2.         Where possible, visiting the child in Calais and/or their family members in the UK to build relationship, assure them that they’re not on their own and that we’re committed to supporting them subject to conditions in the camp

3.         Donating funds to aid the child’s humanitarian and legal needs.

4.         Speaking out by adding their names to a joint declaration of intent (see below), made by all buddies, to together ensure that the minors they’re supporting end up reunited with their loved ones as they are legally entitled to

22 February 2016

French court in Lille upholds decision to demolish southern section of the camp. 

George Gabriel, Citizens UK, said: “We are hugely disappointed that the area of the camp which is home to so many families and unaccompanied children will be demolished before proper new provision has been made. We know that unaccompanied children who have full legal rights to be with their families in the UK are among those who will be displaced, and we are concerned for their safely and their futures. The UK government has a legal and moral duty to reunite unaccompanied children with their families the UK, and we urge them to do this as quickly as possible.”

3 March 2016

In Paris at a joint conference with President Hollande, David Cameron said that if unaccompanied minors in Calais had direct family in Britain and if they applied for asylum in France, under the Dublin Convention they could join their family in Britain. He went on to say “we’ve talked today about how we can make sure they work better and more speedily.”

21 March 2016

For the first time, unaccompanied minors who had previously been stuck in the Calais jungle, will travelled safely and legally to the UK to be with their families through the Dublin III Treaty’s provisions.

Citizens UK is the national home of community organising – a network of over 350 faith groups, schools and colleges that work together for the common good. They have been campaigning on the Syrian crisis for over 18 months and created www.refugees-welcome.org.uk to help coordinate the public’s response.

So far Citizens UK efforts to persuade councils to participate in resettling Syrian refugees have persuaded 44 councils to offer 3,097 places. They’ve identified 700 private landlords who are offering properties, persuaded a dozen universities to offer £3.5 million of scholarships for refugees and successfully challenged the Prime Minister to resettle at least 1,000 people before Christmas.

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