Monday 24 October 2016

Four young Syrian refugees should be reunited with their families in Britain and escape the 'living hell' of Calais refugee camp, court hears

Published 18/01/2016 | 13:46

A migrant hits a former shelter with a stick in a dismantled area of the camp known as the
A migrant hits a former shelter with a stick in a dismantled area of the camp known as the "Jungle", a squalid sprawling camp in Calais, northern France. Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

Four young Syrian refugees living in "The Jungle" should be reunited with their families in Britain and escape the "living hell" of the Calais refugee camp, a court has heard.

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The four young men, who cannot be named for legal reasons and who all have relatives in the UK, are applying for the British Government to take charge of their asylum claims, which would mean they could live in the UK.

The Home Office has turned down their applications, but lawyers are appealing against the decision, claiming it breaches their rights to a family life under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The four young refugees, who fled war-torn Syria last September and arrived at the camp in October, are said to be deeply "traumatised" by their experiences.

Michael Fordham QC, representing the applicants, reeled off a list of UN officials, charities and British MPs who have spoken out about the "intolerable situation" at the camp.

Quoting from a report by a doctor who assessed the refugees in the camp, Mr Fordham said: "Conditions in the camp means that further traumas are added to the ones they have already experienced.

"It would not be possible to find conditions more unsuitable to minors than the Calais camp."

Laura Griffiths, a charity volunteer working in The Jungle, described it as a "toxic waste camp" that amounted to "living hell", the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal heard.

And she said unaccompanied minors at the camp are particularly vulnerable to violence.

Mr Fordham told the hearing: "What do these children need? They need to be reunited with their siblings. That is partly because of the trauma."

The panel of two immigration judges sitting in central London are hearing the cases of four young Syrian refugees.

Two of the applicants are boys in their late teens at the camp. The other two are brothers, a 17 year-old who is the carer for his 26 year-old brother who has severe mental difficulties.

The court heard that they all suffer from trauma and have only spent one night in heated accommodation since they arrived in Calais last October.

Quoting from a report, Mr Fordham said: "It is an entirely unsuitable environment for any migrant and especially harmful for young people who have no family members."

The first teenager suffers from post traumatic stress and "urgently" needs to be reunited with his family "in a safe environment", the court heard.

The second teenager also needs to be united with his family, Mr Fordham argued. The third applicant has post traumatic stress disorder and acute stress reaction, and has to care for his older brother who has severe mental health difficulties, the panel heard.

He said a doctor found that "conditions in the camp are aggravating the condition and are harmful", while his brother also needs to be removed for his health.

Mr Fordham quoted from experts who have told of their shock and horror at conditions at the camp.

He said the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the camp amounted to "an undignified and intolerable situation" and that "people are living in a state of distress and total deprivation".

The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said: "The Jungle is a state-sanctioned slum" the court heard, while the United Nations special representative on migration Peter Sutherland said on Twitter that he was "sickened by conditions in the Jungle".

He branded the camp "a stain on Europe" and "living hell", the court heard.

The French authorities would usually take the lead in the cases. But lawyers are arguing that Britain should immediately take charge of them because of lengthy delays to the process in France and the deep distrust the applicants have of the French authorities.

Mr Fordham said that if the judges rule in favour of the four young men, it could open the door to other applications from refugees at the camp hoping to come to Britain.

He told the hearing: "It will apply to others - certainly, I would say, any unaccompanied minor in this camp with a sibling in the UK. And I don't shrink from that.

"You are only deciding these cases so you know things like how long they have been there and the assessment of their needs.

"I'm not asking you to give a ruling that will be some general protective principle that does not regard those things."

But he added: "Suppose you have only been there a week, my argument is the same. This is intolerable for a day."

Clarifying his argument, he said: "It's not part of my argument that the Secretary of State is obliged to take an unaccompanied minor from Calais who doesn't have family here."

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