Children's rights on the border
Since Project Play started in 2018, we have been documenting children's rights violations we witness on a daily basis during our sessions. We have consistently seen degrading and inhumane living conditions in the informal camps, with minimal access to the most basic facilities. There is currently no running water or access to sanitation facilities, no state-run food distribution and no access to formal education for children and minors. As winter weather conditions set in, the temperatures at night time begin to drop, forcing families to sleep outside in freezing conditions with no sustainable sheltering options.
The Situation in Northern France:
Currently, many displaced children (at least 200) and members of families stranded in Northern France, are trying to survive in desperate living conditions and extreme winter weather conditions. They live in informal living settlements in Calais and Grande-Synthe, in industrial parks, nature reserves, alongside motorways, under bridges and and even on railways. These settlements are characterised by extremely poor living conditions, with minimal access to sanitation facilities, limited water and food provision, inadequate shelter and severe social isolation. In winter, temperatures in Grande-Synthe tend to drop to sub-zero, with heavy wind and frost. Under these conditions, children risk catching hypothermia and other life-threatening conditions, while service providers are unable to provide child friendly activities, play and education.
Moreover, eviction operations, which are carried out multiple times per week, result in the destruction and confiscation of shelter and belongings, arbitrary arrest, the dispersal of communities and difficulties accessing basic services. For children, these living arrangements are extremely traumatic, leading to psychological, emotional and physical health problems. This inhumane and unsustainable situation is the result of policy failures by the French and UK governments. The constant cycle of eviction operations lead to sleep deprivation and further trauma whilst creating barriers to accessing basic services.
What we advocate for:
All children, whether citizens, refugees or migrants on France and United Kingdom (UK) territories, have rights.
The United Nations (UN) Committee on the Rights of the Child wants particular attention to be paid to the rights of certain groups of children, including: "children living in insecure or dangerous conditions, children living in poverty, children in detention, care or shelter, children in situations of conflict or humanitarian disaster, (...) asylum-seeking and refugee children, street children, (...) migrant or displaced children, children of indigenous origin or belonging to minority groups (...)."
We call on France and the UK to respect their commitments to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and to enforce its principles of non-discrimination, best interests of the child, the right to survival and development, and the views of the child.
The consideration of the right and need for children to play
The right to play is vital for children’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical well-being - in short it is fundamental to their right to be a child. Through play, children learn how to communicate with one another, develop physical and sensory skills, discover a sense of who they are and find creative ways to deal with upsetting or traumatising events. The risks associated with play deprivation have a substantial negative impact on children’s development. Growing up in these settlements stops children from experiencing any resemblance of a safe and dignified childhood.
Article 31(1) of the CRC states: ‘States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts’. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child developed and issued General Comment No. 17, dated 1 February 2013 to restore the importance of play, which is often mistakenly considered a non-essential activity: The Committee reaffirms that the right to play is a fundamental and vital aspect of childhood enjoyment, as well as an essential component of physical, social, cognitive, emotional and spiritual development.
This Comment spells out the legal, financial and technical obligations of States Parties to ensure and implement the right to play. We call on the French State to ensure that children have access to safe spaces where play activities can take place.
The creation of safe routes to the UK, accessible for all those who need them.
Safe routes of passage to the UK are vital to protect this vulnerable group of children from life-threatening, treacherous journeys. Seeking asylum is a human right, enshrined in law in the 1951 Refugee Convention. The Home Office's latest statistics show that safe routes are few and far between, and are becoming harder to access. Between 2019 and 2022, the number of people accessing the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme fell by 75%, and those accessing the Family Reunification Scheme fell by 40%.
Instead of seeking to expand safe routes, the introduction of the Nationality and Borders Act creates a 'two-tier' system, punishing those simply for how they arrive in the UK. The proposed Illegal Migration Bill is even more concerning - seeking to strip the right to seek asylum from those forced to cross the channel, and introducing draconian powers of detention. The current rules and new proposals will prevent children and their families from accessing safety and protection, and expose them to further harm. We call on the UK Government to change trajectory - supporting humane policies that ensure safe routes are accessible to all those who need them, supported by the creation of a fair asylum system.