As bulldozers demolish what was until recently a sprawling French migrant camp housing nearly 10,000 asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa, human rights organization are concerned about the fate of hundreds of unaccompanied minors left without a roof.
Crews descended on the Calais "jungle" migrant camp in France to destroy it, sending its inhabitants fleeing.
The brutalities of war and the pain of losing their families have already scarred these children for life. Now, with no place to call home and no semblance of community, they are the most vulnerable to fall prey to smugglers and human traffickers.
Yvette Cooper, who chairs the United Kingdom’s Home Affairs Committee, said despite their efforts to provide adequate arrangement to minors, hundreds of them remain there.
“We know that there are some who the charities have been working with over many months and they are still stuck in Calais today,” said Cooper. “That‘s what’s really worrying…once the clearances start we know that there is a significant risk that many of those children and young people just disappear.”
Before the evacuation began, approximately 1,200 unaccompanied children were present in the haphazardly constructed encampment.
“That is what happened last time when part of the camp was closed without a plan for the children and teenagers,” Cooper added. “And the consequences; they slip into the arms of the smuggler gangs, the traffickers. Just at the point at which they might have been able to be reunited with their family, then they are lost.”
Earlier this year, a research study by the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, revealed a large number of Syrian refugees are working as child slaves and prostitutes in Lebanon.
What’s most frightening is that France does not appear to have a realistic plan to resettle unaccompanied children. So far, the U.K. has accepted nearly 400 young Calais refugees based on their close family ties to the country.
The fate of the rest remains unclear.
“This year, what we have seen has been an increase of unaccompanied children arriving in Europe mainly in Italy,” Celine Schmitt, spokesperson for the United Nation's refugee agency, told the Voice of America. “They arrive by boat in Italy and they continue their way on foot and so many of them end up in Calais. They are very often used by or abused by smugglers and they are arriving in Calais, sometimes with the dream to go to Britain and they need protection and need to go to a safe place.”
The demolition process is expected to be completed by the end of the week.
“It's very scary, I think, for kids particularly. You see them coming in with bulldozers. This is where children have been living for weeks and months in some cases,” said Carolyn Miles, the president and CEO of Save the Children. “It is really important, especially now when things are so chaotic there, that we keep these children safe and we make sure that they get the opportunity that they deserve to go on from there.”