Prime Minister Theresa May’s former department is closing the door on more refugee children coming to Britain from the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp after winning an appeal against a previous ruling offering four Syrians sanctuary in Britain.
The Court of Appeal sided with the Home Office in its challenge against a landmark ruling in January allowing three refugee children and a mentally ill 26-year-old man to be reunited with their families living in Britain.
While the children are not at risk of deportation, experts fear the ruling will cause further delays in bringing refugee minors from the camps in northern France.
The Home Office argued it did not want a legal precedent to be set and Britain’s border controls to be compromised.
Under a European Union agreement called the Dublin Regulation, asylum seekers must make their claim in the first country they reach inside the bloc. Child refugees, however, are granted the right to transfer their claims if relatives are legally living in another member state.
Around 50 children have been brought from the ‘Jungle’ since January, escaping destitution and people traffickers.
Social justice charity Citizens UK represented the four Syrians in their fight to be brought to Britain.
The group’s spokesman, George Gabriel, criticized the Court of Appeal’s decision, saying: “When we brought this case, it was an enormous kick up the arse for the government, and the system is now working better because 50 children have been brought to Britain since the case. But it means that charities like ours will have to continue identifying children one by one, taking them through a lengthy bureaucratic process as they have to wait to be reunited with their loved ones.
“Today is a great day for bureaucrats because it means that the letter of the process will have to be followed despite the clearly unacceptable wait this leaves refugee children facing. We fear this means many will take the situation into their own hands, choosing between people traffickers on the one hand and train tracks on the other.”
Court judges Lord Justice Moore-Bick, Lord Justice Longmore and Lord Justice Beatson argued that the conditions allowed to minors under the Dublin Regulations “can only be justified in an especially compelling case.”
“We welcome the decision of the Court of Appeal to recognize the principle that those seeking protection should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach,” a Home Office spokesman said.
“Any request to unite family members under the Dublin Regulation is carefully considered. Where someone seeking asylum elsewhere in the EU can demonstrate they have close family members legally in the UK, we will take responsibility for that claim.”
The civil servant also confirmed that more than 30 children had been accepted in Britain under May’s new Immigration Act 2016, and another 100 through conditions stipulated under EU law. Two of the four young men brought to Britain under the original case have now been granted refugee status, but the other two are still waiting for a decision.
The Refugee Taskforce chairwoman, Labour’s Yvette Cooper MP, said: “I am appalled that Theresa May has pursued this appeal to make it harder for vulnerable child refugees who are alone in Europe to join family in Britain. These children’s lives and safety are at risk as they have no one to look after them. The result of this appeal is to put extra bureaucratic obstacles in the way of lone child refugees who are desperately vulnerable to trafficking, slavery and abuse – even though they have relatives who could care for them here.
“By pursuing this appeal the government is turning its back on the small number of vulnerable child refugees who could have been offered safe haven quickly with relatives in Britain. Theresa May personally made the decision to pursue this appeal – and it is a complete disgrace that a British prime minister should behave in this way.
“Her claim to be personally tackling modern slavery is utter hypocrisy when she is forcing these children into even greater risk of slavery, exploitation and abuse. She should immediately act to ensure child refugees with relatives in Britain have a fast, safe route to the UK.”