World News

Calais migrant camp demolition raises child trafficking fears, U.N. says

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Lone children living in the shanty town near Calais are likely to go missing or risk being trafficked when France dismantles the migrant camp, the United Nations said on Monday, urging authorities to speed up the reunion of children with families in Britain.

The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, said it was concerned for the safety and future of unaccompanied minors living in the so-called “jungle” camp, on the outskirts of the northern French port town.

“Before the bulldozers arrive, there must be robust plans to safeguard the hundreds of unaccompanied children currently stranded in the camp,” said Lily Caprani, UNICEF UK’s Deputy Executive Director.

Clashes with police broke out in February when authorities began evicting refugees from the southern part of the camp.

“If mistakes from the first eviction are repeated, we will see more children going missing, falling prey to traffickers and facing the winter without a home,” said Caprani in a statement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Rape, forced labor, beatings and death are just some of the dangers faced by children traveling without their parents, UNICEF says.

“The UK must work with the French authorities to get children into appropriate accommodation, where they can have access to care and legal support, so they can reach their families (in Britain) safely,” said Caprani.

President Francois Hollande said on Monday that France will completely shut down the migrant camp in Calais by year-end and disperse the migrants across the country.

“The situation is unacceptable and everyone here knows it,” Hollande said on a visit to the northern city where as many as 10,000 migrants from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan live in squalor.

“We must dismantle the camp completely and definitively,” he said, calling on London to help deal with the migrant flow.

Thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have converged on Calais over the past year, hoping to find a way of getting across the Channel to Britain.

About 7,000 migrants are living in the remaining northern half of the camp, up from 4,500 in June, according to local authorities, although humanitarian groups put the number closer to 9,000.

Most attempt to climb onto lorries or trains using the Channel Tunnel, and police have had to be deployed permanently in the area.

London and Paris have struck agreements on issues such as the recently begun construction of a giant wall on the approach road to Calais port in an attempt to try to stop migrants who attempt daily to board cargo trucks bound for Britain.

“What happens in the Jungle is ultimately a matter for the French authorities, what they choose to do with it,” a British government spokesman said.