October 17, 2016 - 9:49 AM
LONDON - Fourteen children left a border refugee camp in northern France on Monday to be settled with relatives in Britain — the first of dozens of children from the Calais encampment expected to come to the country this week.
The youths, aged 14 to 17, were brought by government officials and charity workers to a Home Office immigration facility in south London before being reunited with relatives, some of whom gathered at local churches.
Under pressure from charities, religious leaders and French authorities, Britain has agreed to accept scores of children from the slum-like camp in Calais who have relatives in the country, along with 3,000 other vulnerable migrant children.
Asif Khan said his 14-year-old brother was among those coming to Britain, after spending six months in the camp known as "The Jungle."
He said being reunited with his brother was "a blessing."
"His journey was so difficult, it was by walking, by bus to Calais," Khan said. "He gets a new life now, because there are many people who died in Calais."
Because it's an island, Britain has been largely untouched by the hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing war and hardship in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who have made perilous journeys to Europe in the last couple of years.
But many migrants aspire to get to Britain, because of its English language and a perceived ease of finding work. Thousands have reached Calais in the hope of crossing the English Channel. Calais is right by the entrance to the 31-mile (50-km) undersea tunnel linking England and France.
France says it will close the Calais camp by the end of the year. That means 6,000 to 10,000 migrants will need to be relocated, including up to 1,300 minors, according to different estimates from charities operating in the camp.
Alf Dubs, a Labour Party politician who has pressed for Britain to take in more migrant children, said all the minors in the camp must be found homes before it is demolished.
"No child must be left behind in the chaos of demolition," said Dubs, who came to Britain as part of the "kindertransport" of Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939. "Looking ahead, we must never allow a repeat of Calais."
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said he hoped Monday's arrivals marked the start of a major push by government and charities.
"Whatever people may say about migration in general there really is no case for sending vulnerable children back into situations where they're profoundly at risk. And I think the British public understands that," Williams said.
"When people see the individual faces of children they think 'Well, we can't say no.'"
News from © The Associated Press, 2016