Baloo’s Youth Centre update; The Dubs Amendment…What now?

This week’s primary focus has been on the Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Bill and its rejection in the House of Commons on Monday 25th April. Its defeat once more poses the question as to the long-term feasible solutions for the unaccompanied minors in the Jungle. The closure of one of the last remaining legal options for these children to get to the UK has in effect forced them to make more dangerous, desperate and reckless attempts to cross illegally. We are repeatedly seeing exhausted boys coming back to the Jungle in the morning after another futile attempt to cross at night, many with injuries sustained in the attempt. In the last month alone we have had to take/ visit at least three boys in hospital, with the most serious being a boy who fell from a moving lorry and spent three weeks in the trauma centre for head wounds.

The constant refusal by the UK government to play its part in the refugee crisis has forced many of the boys from the Youth Service to look elsewhere for a safe future. However often these decisions are as dangerous as the illegal crossings to the UK. This week, two of our boys (14 & 15) against our recommendations left the Jungle for Norway where they plan to claim asylum as they have family connections there. Unaccompanied and incredibly vulnerable they are jumping trains through at least six different European countries to make the 1,500km journey to Oslo. Extremely worried about their safety, we are constantly checking up on them and ensuring they have enough credit to make a call if in danger. However the fact that it has come to this is both a disgrace and embarrassment to all European nations but especially the UK due to its non-existent role in this crisis.

One of the last options available for the unaccompanied minors in camp is that of staying in France, an option that we as a service gently encourage. By agreeing to stay in France, the boys will be protected by the French state until they are 18 years old where they in most cases get granted citizenship status. However we have realised this week that this option does not go without its flaws. One boy recently claimed asylum in France and was placed in a reception home. A depressingly cold place with no translators to help him integrate, he was put in a dormitory with boys he was scared of and told to “go back to the Jungle” when he was in “trouble”. A couple of days later he ran away back to the Jungle. Although we as a service are unable to change the system at present, we have now included this particular home in our outreach work where we plan to play sports with the remaining boys to improve their wellbeing. Separately we also visited France Terre d’Asile this week, the government-mandated organisation for child protection in the Jungle that provides both emergency respite for 15-18 year olds and longer-term support if they wish to stay in France. We plan to collaborate with them in the future through outreach work in the Jungle and day visits to their Centre in St Omer.