29 January 2016

In a ground-breaking decision last week, UK judges ordered the government to immediately allow four asylum seekers who were residing in intolerable conditions in ‘the Jungle’ camp in Calais to enter the UK to join their relatives.

The case involved three unaccompanied minors of Syrian nationality, and the 26 year old brother of one of them who suffers from mental health problems. They were traumatised by their experiences in Syria and were living in conditions of squalor at Calais, waiting to join their brothers who have refugee status in the UK. Lawyers argued that under the Dublin Regulation they should be entitled to enter the UK to have their asylum applications processed, in line with the provisions which prioritise family unity, as well as their right to family life. Normally this would require them to apply for asylum in France and then wait for the authorities to request that the UK take charge of their applications. However in this case, the tribunal accepted the argument that this system was not working due to bureaucratic failings and lengthy delays. Instead of waiting for the French authorities, the British government were ordered to act immediately and allow them to enter the UK to be with their relatives while their asylum applications are processed.

They arrived last Friday where they were welcomed by their relatives and a crowd of well-wishers. Tragically, an Afghan asylum seeker named Masud who was part of the legal challenge and also had a right to have his asylum claim considered by the British authorities, was unable to wait for the ruling and suffocated in a lorry after attempting to join his sister in the UK. 

The ruling has significant implications for the many other unaccompanied minors in Calais hoping to join their relatives in the UK safely and legally, as well as for the functioning of the Dublin Regulation as a whole. Judith Dennis, Policy Manager at ECRE’s member organisation, the British Refugee Council stated “This ruling has shone a welcome light on the plight of refugees seeking protection in Europe who are desperately trying to reach their relatives. Everyone has the right to live in safety with their loved ones.  European governments must work together to ensure families are reunited safely and speedily, especially when it comes to children and other dependant family members.”

In response to an appeal led by Save the Children for the UK to offer refuge to 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Europe, the UK government has announced that it will increase efforts to resettle those in this group, with the assistance of UNHCR. However the focus is on ‘exceptional cases’ and only involves children in conflict regions where resettlement in the UK is deemed to be in the best interests of the child. It will also provide further funding at the hotspots in Italy and Greece to help identify children at risk upon entry to the EU, who could be allowed in to the UK if they have a family connection. This change in policy would have no impact on unaccompanied children in Calais, and elsewhere in Europe.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 29 January 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.