Calais' notorious "Jungle" is closing and migrant children are falling through the cracks
At its peak, the slum known as the ''Jungle' was home to between 6,000 and 8,000 migrants and refugees — including some 1,300 unaccompanied children.
But this week, authorities dismantled the sprawling migrant camp in Calais, France for good.
The demolition process, which lasted for days, was chaotic and marred by violence. Departing migrants set structures on fire, causing several gas canisters to explode.
And while thousands of the slum's former residents have been relocated to reception centres across the country, aid workers in Calais say the demolition has put the camp's youngest inhabitants at risk of falling through the cracks.
Valentina Bollenback, a spokesperson with Save the Children in Calais, estimates that up to 100 children were left out in the cold this week after temporary shelters near the camp filled up.
We don't know how many children will have gone missing.- Valentina Bollenback
"They were forced to sleep under bridges; on the sides of roads. And this just shouldn't be happening."
Bollenback says the camp's closure has left migrant children terrified.
"At the moment, in the last few days and this week, the jungle has been the most dangerous it has ever been. It is certainly no place for anyone — let alone a vulnerable child."
Bollenback believes some children may have already disappeared from the camp. Several were seen running away from a mosque that was set on fire as they sought refuge inside it.
"We don't know if those children ran away to other parts of the camp or ran away from Calais altogether," says Bollenback.
"This is unacceptable. We don't know how many children will have gone missing."
Disappearing by the thousands
This is not the first time migrant children have gone missing in Calais.
In April 2016, 129 unaccompanied youth disappeared after the southern part of the migrant camp was destroyed by French officials.
We're not really contributing to the trust that we should be building with these vulnerable children by dismantling the camp the way it has been done in Calais.- Delphine Moralis
The situation in other European countries isn't much better. Thousands of migrant children are believed to be missing across the EU.
Delphine Moralis, the Secretary-General of Missing Children Europe, tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury that it's nearly impossible to know for sure how many of them have fallen through the cracks.
"Clearly the dismantling of the camps … leads to disappearances," says Moralis. "And I think we're not really contributing to the trust that we should be building with these vulnerable children by dismantling the camp the way it has been done in Calais."
According to the statistics agency Eurostat, 90,000 unaccompanied migrant children arrived in the EU in 2015.
But since those numbers only include those children who have officially applied for asylum, the actual number of unaccompanied minors in Europe could be much higher.
The same is true for the number of migrant children who are missing, Moralis says.
Statistics released by Europol in January estimate that 10,000 migrant children have gone missing in Europe. But the data at the national level suggests the number could be much greater.
"We don't even have an understanding of the scale of the problem, but it is real and it needs our attention," Moralis says.
Going it alone
There are many reasons why migrant children may become separated from their parents and guardians — if they have guardians to begin with.
Some children may have started off on the trip with family members, but became separated along the route. Others may have been sent off on their own by desperate parents who see no prospects for their children in the midst of a conflict zone.
"For every child there is a different story," says Moralis.
Many of the unaccompanied migrant children currently residing in camps like the one in Calais have the right to be reunified with family members in the U.K. or elsewhere. But the children often have little understanding of the procedures for reunification, which can be painfully slow and complicated.
According to Moralis, many children would rather risk the journey on their own than languish in the camps.
Calais, sadly, is really one of the symptoms of the problem. And we need to address the problem at its core.- Delphine Moralis
"We've heard a lot of stories from children who have died in that process, because the situations became so dangerous," she says.
Not all children who go missing are unsafe, Moralis says. But the risks of trafficking and exploitation are significant.
"We are indeed worried, and it is a real risk for some of these children."
Moralis says those risks make it critical for governments across the EU to develop a comprehensive, concerted effort to locate and protect migrant children — regardless of background or circumstance.
"What we see is that there are fragmented pieces of progress, but it remains, really, at a piecemeal," says Moralis. "We have to have a continuity of services that are provided to these children to prevent them falling through the cracks."
Meanwhile, the outcome remains uncertain for the migrant children who have been evicted from Calais this week.
"It's a situation that we will continue to follow up and monitor very closely, not only for Calais, but also for the other places in Europe," says Moralis.
"Calais, sadly, is really one of the symptoms of the problem. And we need to address the problem at its core."