Unaccompanied children in the Calais migrant camp await interviews with the UK Home Office, October 22, 2016. 

© 2016 ZALMAÏ/Human Rights Watch

Tomorrow, UK parliamentarians will hold a much-needed debate on the situation of migrants and asylum seekers in Calais, one year after the demolition of the so-called “Jungle” camp.

The discussion is critical, because conditions in Calais remain grim. With winter looming, between 700 and 1,000 migrants continue to sleep in the open and rely heavily on distributions from humanitarian organizations to survive. The total includes at least 100 children like 17-year-old “Daniel”, an Ethiopian boy I interviewed in June. Bright and friendly, “Daniel” told me he’d had no dinner the previous day because he had to flee police spraying migrants with tear gas. Two days before, he said the police took his blankets and sleeping bag. He’d only had those blankets for one day.

Many of the migrants told similar stories – how police regularly spray them in the face with tear gas while they sleep, and spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets, clothing, and sometimes food and water. UNICEF and an independent investigation have recently warned that children in Calais are also at risk of sexual exploitation, violence, and trafficking. Last week, a French government investigation into our findings found them credible.

Tomorrow’s debate should focus on what Britain can – and should – do to help the children in Calais. Children remain in France even though they may be eligible to come to the UK under European asylum regulations based on family ties, a recent report found. There are legal channels to bring children from Calais to the UK, but even the family reunification process has been slow, arbitrary, and lacking in transparency. Last year, Human Rights Watch found that some children with UK family ties were not brought to the UK following the camp’s closure.

For children in Calais who do not have family in the UK, until February a humanitarian provision in UK immigration law known as the “Dubs Amendment”, gave the UK discretion to admit them if they were unaccompanied asylum seekers or refugees. However, the UK applied strict age and nationality criteria in implementing this provision, and closed admissions in February. In total, the UK eventually allowed 480 children to be brought to the UK under Dubs, all in 2016, from France, Italy, and Greece.

The UK can do better than this.

It’s time for the government to stand up and help these children. Reopening the Dubs scheme to help vulnerable children would be a welcome first step. Authorities should also make every effort to ensure that the family reunification process functions smoothly and swiftly.