Cllr Stephen Cowan talks to child refugees in Calais

H&F pledges to help children in Calais ‘jungle’

Hammersmith & Fulham Council has restated its commitment to do its bit to help some of the child refugees stranded in the Calais ‘jungle’.

While the Home Office started the process this week for resettling child refugees with relatives in the UK, we still await the final arrangements for children with no family but who have a legal right to come to the UK.

H&F Council's Leader, Cllr Stephen Cowan, visited the camp again last week with Councillor Sue Fennimore, H&F Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, at their own expense.

Councillor Cowan said: “I first visited the Calais ‘jungle’ in August. It is an intimidating place. A strong stench of urine emanates from the chemical toilets scattered amongst the tents and shacks.

“I met around 20 quite-obviously young children and teenagers in the Calais ‘jungle’. A nine-year-old boy I spoke with was visibly shivering despite it being a baking hot day. His interpreter explained: ‘The boy has been driven mad with fear’. I heard other stories from very young children that were simply horrific.

“We recognise that the plight of these children is on a historic scale and that it is in the best tradition of Great Britain that we step up, along with other local authorities across the country, to provide those children who have a legal right to be here with protection and support.

“We have foster parents standing by ready to help and will provide safe haven for 15 refugee children currently trapped in the Calais ‘jungle’ who have no relatives in the UK. The government has promised to help these children. So we’re saying loud and clear that we’re ready and waiting for the Home Office to do the right thing.”

Councillor Cowan also made it clear that helping refugee children is possible in Hammersmith & Fulham because the council's finances and services for local people are in good shape and the Home Office is covering the costs.

He added: “The residents of Hammersmith & Fulham will always be our number one priority. That’s why we’re building nearly 600 genuinely affordable homes for local people; we have funded the largest number of council-funded police in the borough’s history; we are the only council in the country to abolish home care charges for our elderly and disabled residents; we are the only council in the country to take all children out of homeless bed and breakfast accommodation; and we are the only council in London to cut council tax this term – also cutting 85 per cent of all council charges.

“There’s lots more we’re doing for our residents too, but I have been touched by the sheer number of local people who’ve taken the trouble to tell me how they deeply support our compassionate approach to these desperate Calais refugee children.”

Last week, volunteer social workers from H&F took special leave to travel to Calais to assess and register children in the camp. The visit was organised and paid for by the refugee charity Safe Passage. Hammersmith & Fulham is the only local authority to do this.

Cllr Cowan said: “I am extremely proud of the H&F’s social workers for doing this. Forty had volunteered within minutes of us putting the call out. They have played a crucial role in breaking the political and bureaucratic deadlock by helping release these children from unimaginable suffering.”

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