(AFP) – Britain faced criticism Wednesday over strict criteria for children hoping to reach the UK after being evicted from France’s “Jungle” migrant camp, with one prominent politician arguing London has broken its promise.
The interior ministry published new guidelines on Monday which outlined how it would decide which children are eligible for a new life in Britain, after the notorious camp across the Channel at the port of Calais was cleared last month.
If a child is Syrian or Sudanese, they are eligible up to the age of 15 under the guidelines — but if they are any other nationality, this drops to age 12.
Children may also be let in if they are identified as being at high risk of sexual exploitation, and they are eligible up to the age of 18 if they are accompanying a sibling who meets one of the other criteria.
In addition, the interior ministry said those eligible must have arrived in Europe before March 20, have been present in the Calais camp on or before October 24, and their transfer to the UK must be determined to be in their best interests.
Britain has accepted more than 300 children in recent weeks from the Jungle, including 19 girls who arrived in Scotland over the weekend.
A further 1,600 unaccompanied minors from the camp were dispatched to shelters around France earlier this month, while they wait to hear whether they will be granted permission to go to Britain.
– Children face ‘uncertain future’ –
While some youngsters have been brought to Britain due to family ties in the country, others have had recourse to a government amendment passed in May which allows vulnerable minors to seek refuge in the country.
The legislation was named after opposition Labour politician Alfred Dubs, who came to Britain under the “Kindertransport” scheme to help child refugees fleeing the Nazis.
Responding to the interior ministry’s new rules, Dubs said the new eligibility criteria “have breached both the letter and the spirit of the amendment”.
“I think they are trying to find a way of avoiding taking more than a handful of children, and what I fear is that while this applies to Calais, they will extend it to unaccompanied children in Greece and Italy as well,” he said, referring to the two main entry points in Europe for refugees and migrants.
More than 340,000 people have taken the sea route to Europe so far this year — more than a quarter of them children, according to the UN refugee agency.
Dubs’ criticism of Britain’s response to the situation was echoed by MPs within the Labour party and the British Red Cross.
“Hundreds of children now face an uncertain future. We strongly urge the government to reconsider the criteria and to show compassion in this ongoing crisis,” said Alex Fraser, the charity’s director of refugee support.
Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill defended the guidance, saying the Conservative government remained “absolutely committed” to bringing eligible children from France to Britain.
Syrian and Sudanese 13- and 14-year-olds have been specified because they are more likely to qualify for asylum, Goodwill said, adding that he expected several hundred more children to be transferred from France in the future.