Two days ago the UK government has taken a clear step back from its commitment to take in half of the 2.000 children that were staying in Calais at the time of its demolition. In the debate on the topic of the “Calais Children and Immigration Act” on 16 November, UK’s minister of Immigration Robert Goodwill announced new eligibility criteria for refugee children that are supposed to be transferred from France to Britain with the demolition of the shanty towns. The new criteria limit admission to unaccompanied minors that are aged 12 or under; at high risk of sexual exploitation; aged 15 or under and of Sudanese or Syrian nationality – the nationalities seen as most likely to qualify for asylum.
The decision was challenged by parliament member Carolyn Harris and called a “disgrace” that is not in the spirit of the Dubs amendment, which was implemented with the aim of helping the most vulnerable children and ensuring their admission to the UK. Harris criticised the arbitrary nature of the age criteria which would also lack compliance with European law because “[a] child is a child until the age of 18.” This critique gained the support of parliamentarian Tom Blake who emphasised that the criteria deny children below the age of 18 universal recognition.
Tom Blake also questioned the criteria related to the state of origin of the unaccompanied minors. The criteria exclude Eritrean and Afghan refugee minors which make up 40 per cent of children in the Calais camp, according to Citizens UK’s Safe Passage, as reported by The Independent. With regard to the question why the UK government decided to exclude these nationalities, Goodwill answered that it would be essential to prioritise those who would be more likely to qualify for asylum. This would be the case for 75% of claims by Sudanese and Syrian refugees. According to him this would be justified by the Dubs amendment since it requires assessing the claims of the most vulnerable children. Goodwill suggests that this allows the prioritisation of children below the age of 15 whose nationalities are likely to qualify for refugee status.The statistics for acceptance rates were sampled from June 2016, according to Goodwill, before the court’s judgement about the country guidance for Eritrea took effect. This court judgement ruled that it is unsafe for Eritreans to return to the country, overturning the governments existing guidance. Under the revised country guidance, the acceptance rates of claims by Eritreans is likely to rise.
While Goodwill justified this approach by referring to the Dubs amendment, Save the Children denies this. In the view of the NGO the criteria are arbitrary, as stated in the The Guardian. Alaf Dub, who has previously urged the UK to take a different approach to unaccompanied minors, likewise expressed his disappointment. According to the Guardian, Dub worries that this denies asylum to Afghanistan and Eritrean minors who are also at risk of war and persecution, therefore eligible for the refugee status under the Geneva Convention.
Finally, the criteria are also subject to restriction with regard to the time of arrival in Calais. In order to prevent a “pull-factor”, as explained by Goodwill, transfer to the UK of unaccompanied minors with the relevant age and nationality is only granted to those who arrived in Calais before 24October 2016 registered in Europe before 20 March 2016. Goodwill expressed his fear that this could incentivise parents send their children on and increased the number of people drowning in the Mediterranean.
This decision was not welcomed by Carolyn Harris saying that “[t]he arbitrary dates mean that children who came to Europe after 20 March are on their own, whatever their age, and that children who came to Europe after 24 October are on their own.” In her view, the government is irresponsible and ignores the fact that all of the unaccompanied minors regardless of age, origin and time of arrival are at risk of all kinds of exploitation, including trafficking, forced labour and modern slavery.