Unicef UK knows of 157 child refugees with the legal right to enter the UK who are stuck in Calais
Over 150 unaccompanied child refugees legally allowed to enter Britain are stuck in France in dangerous and squalid conditions due to an abundance of red tape.
Under the Dublin III Treaty, refugees who have claimed asylum on entry to Europe and have immediate family members in the UK are entitled to request the UK takes charge of their asylum application.
In theory, that should see children allowed to enter the country while their applications are being processed.
However in practice this rarely happens with only 24 children from Calais having been reunited with their families in this way and no lone child successfully using the system.
Instead minors are being caught up in bureaucracy, forced to wait three months in France to have a legal guardian assigned followed by a further six months for their claim to be lodged and a take charge application requested.
The government has said that unaccompanied children should be brought to the UK if they have family here, yet these children’s cases are moving far too slowly
Children’s organisation Unicef UK says it knows of at 157 children in Calais but fears many more are trapped on the continent.
It is calling on the UK government urgently appoint more Home Office staff to speed up family reunion procedures, and for existing laws to be extended to allow children to be reunited with extended family.
“The government has said that unaccompanied children should be brought to the UK if they have family here, yet these children’s cases are moving far too slowly,” Unicef UK deputy executive director Lily Caprani said.
"It’s time for the government to turn its promise into a reality now, and get these children to their families.
“The children in Calais are the nearest and most visible cases of children who are fleeing conflict and making dangerous journeys in search of safety, yet have a legal right to live in safety with their families in the UK.
“I’ve just been to meet them in Calais and have seen the terrible conditions they are living in.
“By taking immediate action for these children, the government can take a crucial first step to show it is serious about its recent commitments to refugee children.”
Unicef UK says that if there were just 10 more Home Office officials working to reunite families, all of the 157 children stuck in Calais could be living safely with their families in the UK in time to start school in September.
It has signed up a host of celebrities, including Scots Sir Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and Ewan McGregor, to front a campaign asking the UK government to do more.
The heart of the appeal though is the story of 16-year-old Bilal who was finally reunited with his older brother in the UK at the end of March, after travelling for more than a year from Syria.
As the conflict in his homeland intensified, Bilal was forced to flee his home without his parents, who had to stay in Syria to care for his elderly grandparents.
After crossing the Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece, he eventually made it to Calais, but then spent seven months in the so-called Jungle before he was able to be reunited with his brother in the UK.
“Having heard Bilal’s heartbreaking story of his journey from Syria, and his struggle to be reunited with his brother, I hope that the public will join me in backing his campaign,” Unicef ambassador Sir Chris Hoy said.
“There are unaccompanied refugee children in Europe risking their lives to reach relatives in the UK despite having the legal right to be brought here safely.
“The government must do more to reunite these children with their family here in the UK.”
Andy Murray, who has raised over £83,000 for Unicef through his Andy’s Aces initiative, said: “Having heard Bilal’s story of being reunited with his brother I’m really happy to add my name to this appeal.
“For these children the chance to be reunited with their family in the UK could be life-changing and make sure they’re kept safe from violence, exploitation and abuse.”