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Safety, protection and hope?

Several Baptist ministers were part of a faith delegation to Calais with Citizens UK to challenge officials about the delays experienced by children with a legal right to be in the UK. Dan Pratt was among them


I found myself on a Eurostar train to Calais with six rabbis, an Islamic chair of a mosque, an Anglican bishop, Catholic priest and two Salvation Army officers last Friday (26 August). Representing the Baptist Union of Great Britain were four Baptist ministers, Penny Marsh, Nick Lear, Phil Warburton and myself. We were part of a faith delegation joining Citizens UK’s work in the so called Calais ‘Jungle’.

Earlier that week Citizens UK had threatened the UK government that as faith leaders we would transfer 14 eligible children to the UK. The UK government had been dragging their heels in permitting this transfer, even though the children had the legal documentation to permit them into the UK.

The consequence was that these children were stuck in the so called ‘Jungle’. Arriving in Calais the faith delegation learned that the Jungle is not a safe place, with five alleged murders the week before our arrival. Unaccompanied children are the most vulnerable, falling victim to abuse or trafficking. This threat of action, of we faith leaders transporting the children ourselves, caused the UK government to respond. They promised to secure the transfer of 14 children to the UK, as well as formal acceptance from the UK government that no child should wait more than two weeks for transfer following their case approved. This will mean for some children considerably less nights are spent in the Jungle. This in itself is a considerable victory!

Within the Jungle, Citizens UK compiled a list of 378 vulnerable children living in the Calais camp who have a legal right to be in the UK. These included 178 Dublin-eligible children, who have family connections in the UK, as well as 209 Dubs legislature eligible children, who were in the EU before 20 March without family. The fact that 378 vulnerable children are only 25 miles from Britain, living in dangerous and exploitative conditions is unacceptable.

This list eliminates the authority’s argument that they don’t know how many children are at risk and eligible for transfer to the UK. It also highlights the need for greater protection for these children. This will hopefully speed up the transfer of children.

Dividing into teams we went to the French Interior Ministry, the Mayor’s Office and Police Departments. The goal was to present each with a list of the 378 children. This puts the governments in the UK and France ‘on notice’. This was to increase the legal and political accountability of British and French governments and therefore provide more protection for the children.

Calais delegation500

My team went to the local Sous Préfecture (town council). We were accompanied by Samuel (name changed), a 15 year old boy from Eritrea who had spent two years travelling to Europe to be reunited with family in the UK. He has however been stuck in Calais with no way of getting into the UK except through being exploited by people traffickers.

At the Sous Préfecture, Samuel was able to present a short story of his situation along with the list of 378 children’s names, including his own.

Presenting the officials with his story, Samuel gave a small victorious smile. He was not alone. His story counted. Each of the 378 unaccompanied children has a story. Their stories have not ended.

How we respond to their stories as a nation and as individuals can dramatically effect the outcome of their stories. Will their stories be ones of safety, protection and hope? This is an opportunity for us to act; to stand in solidarity with these 378 children; to write to our MPs; to finance organisations such as Citizens UK and our Baptist Union's justice work among these children; and to pray for God’s protection and provision for these children.

Dan Pratt (pictured left) is a Baptist minister at 57 West in Southend

Baptist Times, 01/09/2016
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