How Four Young Syrian Refugees Escaped The Calais Jungle

By Adam Wagner, Founder and Chair 1 Mar 2016

The Calais “Jungle” is currently being dismantled (see our news piece on the demolition here). We thought it would be interesting to share a story from a few weeks ago, when a UK court allowed four young Syrian refugees who had been living in Calais’s infamous migrant camp (the “Jungle”) to enter the UK and reunite with their relatives while their asylum applications are processed. You can read the full judgment of the Upper Tribunal here.

The four unaccompanied young men all fled war-torn Syria after experiencing terribly traumatic events. Two of them had been detained and tortured by the Syrian government. Since they fled, they spent months living in appalling conditions in the Calais camp, which has been described as a “living hell”.

Staying in the Calais slum was clearly intolerable. And, despite the fact that all four young men had relatives living in the UK as refugees, their applications to enter the UK were turned down by the Home Office. In doing so, the Home Office relied on an EU law known as the Dublin Regulation.

How does that work?

The Dublin Regulation sets out which EU Member State is responsible for examining asylum claims presented by people who arrive in Europe.

One key principle under the Dublin Regulation is that asylum seekers who are not citizens of the EU or are ‘stateless’ must claim asylum in the first EU Member State they reach. If they want to join family in another Member State, the first State must apply to the second State for them to be transferred.

Let’s go back to the four young refugees in the Jungle. The Home Office denied their pleas for protection because this would not follow the procedure in the Dublin Regulation. This meant that they would only be allowed to join their families in the UK after they applied for asylum in France and France made a request to transfer them to Britain.

Here’s where it gets interesting

The four argued that the process under the Dublin Regulation was not working. It contained unacceptable bureaucratic delays. A report presented to the Tribunal showed that transfer requests are likely to take almost a year.

The four also argued that not allowing them to enter the UK and reunite with their families violated their right to family life which is protected under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

They won their case. Subject to any appeals, the young refugees were allowed to enter the UK to reunite with their families while their asylum claims are processed.

Does that mean a lot more people will be let into the UK?

The decision could potentially have implications for other unaccompanied, young and vulnerable people who already have family legally living in Britain. But it definitely doesn’t mean that the gates to the UK have been thrown open. The judges themselves said that their decision depended a great deal on the particular circumstances of the four in question. They were young, alone and psychologically traumatised by their experiences. They were especially vulnerable. Judges will not easily permit people to use human rights claims to enter the UK. They thought that successful claims are likely to be rare.

That said, this decision is an important reminder that we must be careful to protect the human rights of vulnerable people looking for safe asylum.

Sounds like a good idea.

Human rights law may be needed sometimes to correct the unfairness and inefficiency of EU asylum law. Under the Dublin Regulation, the individual preferences of asylum seekers – that is, where they actually want to live – have no relevance whatsoever. The only way asylum seekers ever get to choose where to try and rebuild their lives after escaping war and persecution is by being lucky enough to not get caught travelling to the country they ultimately want to settle in. This creates a real risk of desperate people using dangerous methods to get into their preferred country to claim asylum.

The Dublin Regulation also completely fails to put in place fair “burden-sharing” between EU Member States. The distribution of asylum applicants amongst European countries is extremely uneven and basically depends on their geographical location. This leaves countries at the EU’s southern border – such as Italy and Greece – particularly exposed to overwhelming numbers of asylum applications.

Last summer, EU countries agreed to relocate 160,000 people from the frontline of the wave of migration (including Italy and Greece) to other EU Member States.

This relocation policy has been something of a flop (with only 272 asylum seekers – 0.17% of the pledged amount – having been relocated by January 2016).

You can learn more about the right to family life and the European Convention on Human Rights herehere and here. And don’t forget to take a look at our page on people seeking refuge here.

About The Author

Adam Wagner Founder and Chair

Adam is the founder and Chair of EachOther. In his day job, he is a barrister specialising in human rights law and is well known for his human rights communications work on social and mainstream media. In 2010, he set up the hugely successful UK Human Rights Blog.

Adam is the founder and Chair of EachOther. In his day job, he is a barrister specialising in human rights law and is well known for his human rights communications work on social and mainstream media. In 2010, he set up the hugely successful UK Human Rights Blog.