Safe Passage UK powered by Citizens UK (SPUK-CUK) and a collective of legal organisations have been nominated for PILnet’s 2016 European Award for Exemplary Partnership in the Public Interest. Among the several thousand people living in the unofficial “Jungle” camp of Calais, there were a significant number of unaccompanied minors (UMs), separated from their family and left vulnerable to trafficking and violence. Asylum-seeking UMs in an EU country have a legal right to be reunited with family members legally residing in another EU country under the Dublin III regulation, if in their best interest. Despite the existence of this framework and the French and UK governments’ human rights obligations, there was no process for UMs in Calais with UK family members to access their rights in practice. Many of the UMs in Calais have lost or been separated from family members either in their country of origin or en route to Europe, and experienced the traumas of war or civil unrest. Once in the Calais Jungle, these vulnerable individuals faced the dangers of traffickers, risky train or lorry crossings, and increasing social isolation.
Following strategic litigation in January 2016 by Bhatt Murphy, Islington Law Centre’s Migrant Law Project, Doughty Street and Blackstone Chambers as regards the admission of three UMs and one vulnerable adult to the UK for their asylum claims to be considered by the UK following notification to the French authorities, SPUK-CUK worked with a collective of lawyers from a number of law firms and NGOs in the UK and France to ensure that as many UMs in Calais as possible were offered a legal, safe and quick passage to the UK, while an accessible process continued to be lacking. This collective included Bhatt Murphy, Islington Law Centre, Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, Wesley Gryk Solicitors, Jackson Canter, Wilsons, Duncan Lewis, Kingsley Napley, Ashurst, and Maitres Marie-Charlotte Fabié and Lou Salomé Sorlin. Please note that the full list of organisations is more extensive and may be extended if approved by other contributors.
In this project, SPUK-CUK identify UMs on the ground who have a family connection to the UK. Lawyers carry out a pre-screening of the family members in the UK, go to Calais to meet with UMs to take statements, meet the UK family members to take witness statements and ensure they possess legal refugee status, verify the family relationship, collating and verifying the required evidence, and prepare applications to the Home Office in the UK. On the French side, specialist French lawyers meet with the refugee children and deal with the necessary French administrative bodies to request a take charge request of the minors’ cases by the French state to the UK, with document translation and drafting support by French-speaking Ashurst London and Paris lawyers, and a firm which wishes to remain anonymous. A number of non-legal volunteers and Ashurst lawyers with Arabic-speaking skills have acted as interpreters with the children and family members, and translating family documents. Between January – July 2016, with SPUK-CUK identifying UMs in Calais and facilitating trips by UK and French lawyers to the Jungle camp, approximately 50 UMs stranded in Calais were reunited with their families in the UK, with a number of additional cases taken on since then.