Politicians and newspapers have whipped up a vile debate about whether small numbers of refugee children arriving from Calais are adults.
Tory MP David Davies, who said “British hospitality” risked “being abused”, has led the charge.
Davies called for dental checks to verify the age of refugees. He was immediately slammed by the British Dental Association—but shamefully former Labour home secretary Jack Straw backed him up.
Several newspapers ran large photos of refugees who should have a right to anonymity, accusing them of being fake children.
At least one appeared to be a fake photo. Photographer Bjorn Kietzmann said he had taken one photo used on the front of the Daily Telegraph in Calais. It was of a Sudanese refugee who “never claimed to be a child”.
The Daily Mail newspaper resorted to running photos through an age profile app. The same app guessed Davies’ photo was 12 years older than he is.
A group of around 15 child refugees from Calais arrived at the Home Office building in Croydon, south London, this morning, Thursday.
Patricia was one of those who had gathered to welcome them. She told Socialist Worker, “I came because if my grandchildren were ever in that situation I would want people to welcome them.
“You can go to any secondary school and find 16 year olds who are six feet tall. You can’t just say they all must be 22.”
Through officials, the refugees requested that photographers and journalists outside their coach didn’t take photos. But the cameras kept rolling, forcing children to slip past with blankets over their heads.
Others were there to welcome them, mostly from church groups and the NGO Citizens UK. They cheered, holding balloons and banners, and chanted, “Refugees welcome here”.
A class of immigrant women learning English for Speakers of Other Languages (Esol) in Hackney, east London, came to show support. Rabiya said, “These are children—they need education, health care and safety.
“They need friends and family. I want to do anything I can to help.”
French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve today confirmed that the demolition of the Calais camp is “imminent”. It could take place on Monday.
Yet refugees from Calais are arriving at a rate of barely a dozen a day. The Home Office refuses to commit to a number it will bring in—or to bringing any children who don’t have family in Britain.
Adults have every right to safety too. Yet those coming must provide “credible and clear documentary evidence proving their claimed age”—something that fleeing war, repression and poverty often makes impossible.