Nancy Dent works for Restless Development, and volunteers with the Refugee Rights Data Project in her spare time. In this post, she reflects on her experiences in the Calais migrant camp and considers the impossible situation faced by young refugees in Europe.
In the Calais migrant camp, there are 1,179 residents who are under the age of 18. 87% of these children are living in the ‘Jungle’ alone. A fourteen year old boy from Afghanistan was killed last week, as a lorry continued driving whilst he lost his grip.
The media has not released his name. He has two uncles and one brother living in the UK, and they have requested privacy as they come to terms with the news. He has two uncles and one brother living in the UK. The UK. A phrase cut with black humour and bleak awe as it is uttered throughout the Calais migrant camp.
According to The Dublin Convention 1951, and the newly ratified Dubs Amendment that is supposed to ensure that unaccompanied minors are legally and safely relocated, the young man had the right to cross the border and be reunited with his family, and yet he was killed in a futile attempt to continue his journey of 3,610 miles. He had been granted papers, and was expecting to make the final 21 miles at any given – or any sanctioned – moment.
Humanity and common sense leads to outrage. The fourteen year old boy from Afghanistan was simply attempting a leg of his journey that the authorities had promised him was within reach months before he ‘lost faith in the system, and thought the only option was to risk his life in order to finally reach safety’ (Help Refugees, 2016). There are 1,179 minors in the Calais migrant camp. How many more must face the injustice of being forced to wait to find safety?
A 24 year old Sudanese man approached me, extending his iPhone5 as a if he were a music fan holding it aloft at a concert. “Please fix this… wifi…. My mother,” He said, a frown stretching from his temples to the corners of his mouth. He was dressed in a pair of tight black jeans that grazed the top of a pair of battered Nike trainers and a black hoodie that was fraying at the seams. He wore a set of thick silver rings, one of which had a large dark stone embedded into the centre.
I did not speak Arabic and he spoke little English, and the result was an arduous conversation via Google Translate, where we relied on a local wifi access point to maintain a connection so that he could tell his story to someone who was willing to listen… and to someone who didn’t have a similar story with which to compete. He too deserves to find safety. He too should find himself in a secure environment of empowerment and opportunity.
50% of refugees are under the age of 30. Half of the refugees in the world are young people, determined to leave behind countries ravaged by war, dictatorship and conscription in order to realise a sustainable future for themselves and their families.
As young people living in the mythical UK – where the dreams of refugees of all ages are made – we have a responsibility to welcome those who reach our shores, and to fight for the opportunity to welcome those who are stuck in limbo, in a world where the legal documents in their hands promise no route to safety any time soon.