Sue Clayton: Filmmaker Among the Vulnerable Young Refugees of Calais & Dunkerque

Child in Calais

This updates an earlier post about film activist Sue Clayton’s work with, and film about, unaccompanied children and young people who are refugees on the coast of France, trying to get to Britain. The film is partly for use as evidence in upcoming court cases and an inquiry.

Daniel, a 9-year old orphan from Eritrea, had the right to be in Britain, because he had close family there. But he was sleeping in a damp and dangerous lean-to in the Calais Jungle, regularly subject to tear-gas attacks and violence from the CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité, the general reserve of the French national police force). And his his voice was not being heard.

Then, filmmaker Sue Clayton and her colleagues provided legal representation to protect his immediate future. Daniel is now safely with his older brother in Britain, in care.

But many others weren't so lucky.

Sue's film began with her exploration of whether the children of Calais had a legal case to be in Britain. She found that a great many do, either under the Dublin 3 Regulation because they had family members in Britain, or under the Dubs Amendment as particularly vulnerable young people alone in Europe (Lord Dubs, who forced through this amendment, was brought to Britain from Czechoslovakia in 1939, on one of the Kindertransport trains).

Sue began expecting to film for a month and make a short. She's now been doing it for over 6 months and the film will be an hour long.

In June the court case ZS and Others, initiated by Sue and her colleagues, will go to the High Court to dispute the outcomes that have left children and young people suffering and stranded, as will two other major challenges. A cross-party Parliamentary inquiry is going to be conducted to see what went wrong. Sue's film will be prime evidence for both.

This from her update–

After The Calais Jungle Cleared

After the Calais Jungle was cleared, the French authorities kept the minors who'd been there in accommodation all over France – some great, some appalling. The agreement was that British Home Office would go to all of these centres and do proper assessments of the young people and their claims, all of which could have been done up to year before in the Jungle, before it was cleared.

However Sue and her colleagues have evidence that most of the interviews lasted for *five* minutes or less, and were conducted without interpreters present. A few were brought to Britain in the winter period, but many with a strong Dublin 3 claim were overlooked. 


Those without family, who ought to have qualified under the Dubs Amendment, were entirely ignored, because the British government drastically – and, Sue and her colleagues argue, unlawfully – limited the Dubs Amendment's scope last November, to avoid having to take many children. Otherwise, at least 3000 unaccompanied minors among the 85,000 of them now in Europe would have qualified and this would have taken some pressure off other EU states.

In February, the French gave up on the inadequate British effort, and closed the centres they'd made available all winter, leaving 1200 kids and young people in limbo. Some, in the mountains, were in extreme cold and distress.

In March 2017, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd sneaked an announcement into the British Parliament while it focussed on the Brexit debate, announcing the final number of accepts under the Dubs Amendment. From Dubs’ initial proposal that 3000 minors without family should be brought to the Britain from France, Rudd stepped down to only 200 from Calais – those already taken in late 2016. And no more.

No-one recognised the tortuous process the young people had been put through due to failed British promises – incarcerated in containers, sent into a winter of exile and starvation to wait for assessments that never happened, excluded from Dubs when the government narrowed its terms to discriminate by race. Rudd also sought a motion to scrap the Dubs Amendment entirely as ‘the crisis is over'. Protests were held and a vote in Parliament saved the Amendment, but as long as it is applied by the Home Office in a very limited way. It was a hollow victory.

The latest situation is that over 600 of the children and young people have made their way back to Calais, the only place that's familiar to them. They all feel that promises made to them by the British in the last days of the Jungle were not kept.

Calais is Much More Dangerous Now

And Calais has changed beyond recognition. It is almost like a militarised zone. The Mayor of Calais has long opposed the British failure to deal with the its own border issues, and enforces zero tolerance for returnees. The Jungle site is a flat empty field, with heavy police presence. Riot Police and CRS patrol the streets, cafes and stations. It’s like an occupied town.

Any returning refugee, even a child, is arrested for simply being there and on March 2nd, it became a ‘crime of solidarity’ for Calais citizens or aid workers to give food or shelter to a refugee, even a child.

Children are sleeping out in the woods, often tear gassed while asleep 
and with no option but the deadly cat-and-mouse game with police and CRS, while every night making ever more desperate attempts to reach the truck-stops and the port. Sue and her crew have been following Utopia 56, a charity that dives out after midnight to feed these children, in defiance of the Police ban.

Y, 16, from Syria talks about freezer trucks being the best option – police cannot detect body heat though of course risks are high. Access is now more than ever controlled by traffickers and gangs.

JL, an Afghan, says they try to leave Calais every night “but north of the port there are Iraqis with knives, asking us for money. South there are Romanians with guns.” There have been stabbings, and E from Eritrea, with whom Sue has filmed a lot, 
had both his legs broken when run over by a vehicle, and Sue has been supporting him in hospital in Lille. He may not walk again. 

Thanks to Amir Amirani, Sue's also been supplying clothes and sleeping bags to others living in rat-infested woods and squats in Calais. She keeps in regular touch with up to 50 young people in France and Belgium, getting them phone credit, getting them basics they need to survive, getting them lawyers where we can and working with the lawyers.

Some children and young people have left, disappeared, gone forever. A, Sudanese, is now in Belgium, sleeping with drunks and addicts on the street. He says “I am 14 and my life is over”. Others are in city ghettos, living rough, prey to traffickers and abusers.

J runs a Catholic ‘safe house’– though even it gets raided. He says of the 600 lone children now back in Calais, less than 40 have a bed at night. R, 12, Eritrean, who Sue met in Le Havre, has made it to the safe house. He has an aunt in Britain and should be with her, but like others has been overlooked as a Dublin 3 case. He shivers with fear if he steps outside the house. What future has he now?

Dunkerque Burns

Then, a few days ago, the only remaining refugee camp in France, in Dunkerque, was burnt down.




Fire in Dunkerque
Some of the young people Sue's involved with were sleeping there during the fire but as far as she's ascertained so far, they are all physically ok.

However they’re left with nowhere with Calais is under police lockdown and the Dunkerque camp gone, for ever. Like the Calais Jungle, the empty site is being policed.

It's endgame for so many minors. Now they are completely stuck. Still, they are being tear-gassed even when they sleep. Criminalised. And starved as it's much more challenging to provide food and shelter to them than before. Mentally they are very stressed, Sue reports.

In the light of Dunkerque and messages of desperation Sue's getting from her contacts there, she and her colleagues are doing one final humanitarian/filming trip this coming week, taking sleeping bags and clothes, and checking in with the boys who were at Dunkerque and the girls who are at the tiny illegal camp in the woods nearby.

At the British end, she's been doing final interviews and will see Lord Dubs in the next few days.

The film is still due to be released in time for Refugee Week June19-25th, and as evidence to Parliament and for the High Court challenges to to the Home Office, coming up in June.

We Can Help

Please do consider helping to support Sue in this crucial last lap as she tries to get over 40 hours of material in 6 other languages translated, buys in key archive footage; edits and sound-edits. She needs about £5000.

(Sue is starting to get the film sold to UK and European TV and if she does, all revenues after all costs are paid will go back into the campaign.)

We can donate here

Calais Children on Facebook


One of the young people at Dunkerque sent Sue this picture of himself

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