Director Sue Clayton is perhaps best known for her award-winning Hamedullah: The Road Home, about the forced removal of young people from the United Kingdom (UK) to Kabul and for her archive of interviews with young asylum seekers in the UK and her work with a team researching best outcomes for young asylum seekers.
Today, she’s in the vast refugee camp called ‘the Jungle’ in Calais, northern France, which acts as a border to the UK. According to Sue, it is ‘not an official camp. It’s run by about 100 young volunteers, mainly untrained, and no infrastructure at all’. In a few hours, the French will begin to demolish the camp and scatter its occupants all over France, in buses.
Sue is focusing on the over 1000 unaccompanied children and young people in the camp, the ‘unaccompanied minors’, who live in cold tents with no food or power. She is finding as many as possible, making Calais Children: A Case to Answer, a film about them (‘with due respect to their privacy — may not film them directly but there are ways of doing it where I don’t need to’) and and signing them up to apply for entry into the UK. It’s not easy. She writes–
On Oct 8th 2am the legal centre in the camp (a portacabin) burnt to the ground, severely hampering our work. I’m meeting kids of 11 and 12 with no family in Europe, and no prospects after next week. Nobody here believes the French will magically provide buses and accommodation for 10,000 people. It’s a human rights disaster.
Although the UK has has known for a long time that France plans to close the camp and has had months to process the unaccompanied minors, it’s chosen to delay assessment of their cases until the last week or so.This, Sue says, is ‘the greatest human rights abuse from the UK government I’ve seen in my lifetime’. Only about 1/3 of the unaccompanied minors have mobiles, so when the French disperse them, they have little chance of staying in touch with people who can help. Sue says, ‘ Many will be too scared to get on buses, if buses even show up. They’ll run away. We have to get them mobiles’.
Some of the children and young people qualify to enter the UK because they have family there. Others are eligible under the Dubs amendment, which grants sanctuary to vulnerable unaccompanied children, initiated by Lord Dubs, who himself arrived in the United Kingdom as a child refugee, on the pre-World War II kindertransport.
Sue is not alone of course. With her are her film crew and, this weekend, ten lawyers and eleven people from Social Workers Without Borders, all working hard to find and sign up more unaccompanied minors and to distribute cell phones. They work with Safe Passage, powered by Citizens UK, which listed 387 children six weeks ago. There are also organisations like the Women’s and Children’s Centre run by Liz Clegg and her daughter Inca Sorrell (and here on Facebook). And Help4Refugee Children which writes–
There is nothing officially in place to support children during and after the destruction of the camp. During the last demolitions, more than 300 children went missing and many remain unaccounted for to date.
There’s also some good news. The first Dubs amendment cases have just been accepted and a group of Eritrean girls at risk of being trafficked have reached the UK. Sue’s group has this weekend found and signed up more than 100 unaccompanied minors who they hope will also be eligible under the Dubs amendment. Hundreds of unaccompanied minors will now be kept in the camp in converted shipping containers, until their claims to enter the UK are processed.
But Sue needs our support urgently, to continue with filming, which costs about US$1000 per day and continues day and night. Last week, her crew filmed the French riot police when they came into the camp to close the small shops that supply refugees with batteries, SIM cards, basic food like 30 cent home made naan bread if people have money to buy it, hammering notices, Nazi-style, on the doors of all tiny shops and cafes. That night, when hundreds of people tried to move towards the UK border in Calais, the riot police repelled them, including children, with tear gas and batons and riot shields.
Very soon, those police will be back. With or without buses. But some unaccompanied minors may go missing, on buses or because they are frightened and run away.
Sue wants to ensure ‘every last Calais child gets safety, and that they’re not just cherry-picked by race, nationality or [UK] numbers games’. We can help her to do this and to document what happens. She and her crew are there for the duration: film activism at its best.
Later, also 23 October
The Continuing Story, via the Guardian, as French police arrive.
Liz Clegg, of the Women’s and Children’s Centre, who has provided a list of children to the UK’s Home Office. A few of them have gone missing and she is desperately trying to track them down–
We are particularly worried that this evacuation has been left so late that we will see total chaos. The youngest child we have dealt with is eight years old, and tomorrow he will be herded in with thousands of adults.
We are told once they are in the hangar there will be a separate queue for children, but in between the camp and the warehouse there will be utter chaos, with thousands of stressed inhabitants of the camp and large numbers of French riot police. It is gobsmackingly inappropriate that the most vulnerable of children will be put in this situation.
I am sure we could have found a better and more suitable way to do this.
Lily Caprani, the deputy executive director of Unicef UK, said there would be ‘no second chances’ for the children once demolition began–
If it results in a single child going missing, or forces them into the hands of smugglers and traffickers, then we will have failed them.
24 October update
The camp is being dismantled and Sue is helping to find all the little ones and get them into the system. No one has even told them what’s happening and although the French are being great and say no minor will be left unsupported, Sue and the others are the ones who are looking for them! As well as the Safe Passage quota, several more of those she’s found have been accepted and left Calais for UK yesterday at dawn.
The filming is ‘going great’.
It is going to take 2/3 weeks to process the minors and Sue will stay at least part of the time to make sure that goes ok and to support the kids who are scared. They will be rehoused in the containers in camp, while rest of camp bulldozed. Some riots are likely.
If you’d like to donate, here’s the link again.
Originally published at wellywoodwoman.blogspot.co.nz on October 23, 2016.