Calais Children: ‘A kid had both legs broken by a truck, some are on suicide watch, a lot have mental health issues’
- Credit: Archant
Award winning film maker Sue Clayton introduces Calais Children at Swiss Cottage Community Centre on December 13 at 7pm
Sue Clayton’s film about the deportation of a teenage Afghan refugee has been used in numerous immigration cases.
Hamedullah The Road Home was cited as evidence that it’s ‘unduly harsh’ to return an 18-year-old to a place they no longer remember.
“The UK is obliged to accept unaccompanied child asylum seekers but we won’t look at their proper case for asylum and at 18 they are being rounded up and deported,” says Clayton.
“I gave Hamedullah a camera and for a year he filmed life back in Kabul. I’d no idea that would be useful in court, but lawyers say there is no evidence of what happens to the 18-year-olds when they are sent back.”
The Goldsmiths film professor hopes her latest film Calais Children will be similarly useful for several cases going through the British courts. It follows some of the estimated 2,000 9-17-year-olds from the camp known as the Jungle. The Stoke Newington resident visited it last October to file a news package for ITN but she was so moved by the plight of vulnerable lone children amid the mud and chaos, she decided to make a longer film.
“You think a camp will be organised with lists of names and rows of tents, but it was just 10,000 people looking after themselves and, in the middle of it all, tiny kids looking at you and no one even knew their names.
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“I couldn’t believe this was Northern Europe. I booked myself into a B&B. I felt I had to do something more than a five minute news item.”
With four weeks before the camp was bulldozed, she crowdfunded £50,000, marshalled 10 immigration lawyers to work for free to start processing claims, then spent nine months following the aftermath.
She explains: “We pay the French £80million a year to have the UK border at Calais. It’s right next to the Jungle which the French think is our responsibility, and we think is theirs. Post Brexit they got fed up and decided to take it down.”
Under the Dublin III Regulation, a child alone in Europe can join relatives in another country.
“It’s quite a clear legal right, many children in the Jungle had a claim but the Home Office had no-one there to process them.”
The Dubs amendment, tabled by Labour Peer Lord Dubs, who arrived in Britain on the Kindertransport aged six, also means vulnerable children with no relatives should be let in.
“The police were tear-gassing every night, children would go missing, were being trafficked or abused. If anyone qualifies as a Dubs child it has to be the children at Calais.”
In the weeks before and after the camp was destroyed, Britain accepted 500 children.
“The French President rang Theresa May to say ‘we will take the adults you have to deal with the remaining children’. They have a legal case. She said no.”
So hundreds of children were then housed in youth hostels and temporary accommodation across France. Some returned to Calais trying to gain entry to the UK, Clayton says some died or became the victims of traffikers.
“A kid in the film had both legs broken by a truck, some are on suicide watch, a lot have mental health issues. I don’t believe in making a film and walking away. I’m in constant touch with them and still fund-raising. I take coats and warm clothes when I can. They are sleeping outdoors in the damp and get lung and foot diseases. Whatever I can keep doing I have to do.”
Driven by a passionate desire for justice, Clayton’s film will be screened in Parliament next month.
“I usually make fiction but in recent years I’ve done more personal, political projects,” she says. “I didn’t want to be a campaigning film maker but things have got so bad with the erosion of human rights, and refugees viewed as vile animals who will kill us in our beds, that you almost don’t have a choice.”
Clayton, who has been called as a witness at immigration appeal cases, adds that she deliberately kept the film “tight and direct” interviewing lawyers and MPs as well as children.
“I am ashamed at how these children are treated, I don’t want to make a film purely for people to say ‘poor kids, isn’t it sad’. I want to change the law and challenge the Home Office as being negligent.”
Sue Clayton introduces Calais Children at Swiss Cottage Community Centre on December 13 at 7pm. Organised by the library friends and the Jewish Council For Racial Equality, the £5 tickets (jcore.co.uk) go to JCORE’s befriending project for unaccompanied asylum seekers. Bring socks gloves scarves or hats to donate or give to Calais.gebnet.co.uk or berthafoundation.org