Home Office handling of child refugees from Calais ‘a shocking denial of rights’

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The Home Office’s handling of more than 1,000 lone child refugees living in the Calais “Jungle” when it was dismantled has been branded a “shocking denial of children’s rights”.

In a ruling on Tuesday, Court of Appeal judges said children who were refused entry to the UK from the makeshift camp in northern France should have been given fuller reasons for the refusal.

They also criticised the Government department for failing to reveal, at an earlier court hearing, that the refusal to give more detailed reasons was because of a “perceived risk” the children could bring legal action.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, urged the Government to work with campaigners to reunite affected families.

She said: “This is an important and deeply shocking verdict which shows that the Home Office badly failed vulnerable child and teenage refugees trying to join family here in the UK.

“Many of these teenagers and children spent desperate months or years in the Calais camp, many had been abused and exploited and many were waiting for legal processes to be completed or for a fair chance to reunite with their family.

“Instead, this court case shows the Home Office deliberately gave them no reasons for turning them down to avoid legal challenge.

“That is a shocking denial of children’s rights.”

Ms Cooper added: “Everyone knows the Home Office gets decisions wrong, but these teenagers and children weren’t even told the reasons why so they or their families could challenge basic mistakes.

“The result was many of those teenagers and children disappeared again – very possibly straight back into the arms of smugglers, traffickers and abusers.

“Even though ministers agreed to help many child refugees from Calais, it appears the default setting of the Home Office was still so hostile that it deliberately made it harder for others to appeal or to rejoin relatives.

“I urge the Home Office now to work with campaigners and legal teams to revisit cases wherever possible, and to do more to support child refugees seeking family reunion, or who have arrived in the UK and deserve certainty regarding their status.”

French authorities announced their intention to clear the camp in October 2016, by which time there were several thousand refugees – mainly from the Middle East and north Africa – living there.

This led to discussions between the then home secretary, Amber Rudd, and French authorities to decide on a procedure for identifying unaccompanied children who had close links with the UK.

Of the almost 2,000 children who were assessed, about 750 were transferred to the UK between October and December 2016.

Those refused passage were told by the French authorities using a spreadsheet – sent by the Home Office – which had a word or short phrase to indicate the reason for the refusal in each case.

Campaigning organisation Citizens UK challenged the assessment process at the High Court, but the case against the Home Secretary was dismissed in September last year.

However, following a Court of Appeal hearing in June, Lord Justice Singh and two other judges overturned the earlier ruling.

Emails revealed the Home Office refused to give more detailed reasons – despite being asked to by the French authorities – because of a “perceived risk” of legal action over the refusals.

Lord Justice Singh said the failure to mention this during the High Court hearing was – while not deliberate – “a serious breach of the duty of candour and co-operation” and resulted in key evidence not being put before the judge.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The UK worked with France to expedite the transfer of 769 vulnerable unaccompanied children from Calais in October 2016.

“This was in response to an urgent humanitarian situation where our priority was to provide safe passage for children.

“The court agreed that the process operated by the Government was outside of its existing obligations under EU law.

“However, we note the criticisms contained within the wider ruling and are currently reviewing these with our legal team.”

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