Life is a “living hell” for children in French refugee camps, where they have been sexually exploited by traffickers who promise them passage to the UK, a UNICEF report says.
A report co-produced by UNICEF to be published on Thursday will reveal the “dire situation for children” living in camps such as Calais and Dunkirk.
“It shows a frank and disturbing picture of the abuses happening to children right on our doorstep,” UNICEF said.
Hundreds of children, many of them unaccompanied, are currently living in camps in northern France.
Children mostly from Syria and Libya told researchers that human traffickers force them to work tirelessly and commit crimes such as opening lorry doors to enable adults to be smuggled across the Channel to Britain.
The Calais camp is known as the “Jungle” due to the appalling living conditions of asylum seekers there.
Thousands of refugees are massed in the “Jungle,” some for months, as they try to cross the Channel to reach Britain.
Last month, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to speed up family reunification, but the government has said it could take up to seven months to receive the first children.
Citizens UK, a charity that works to resettle refugees, says only 150 children in Calais have the right to enter Britain because they have families in the country.
It estimates that at the current rate it would take a year for all 150 to be reunited with their families.
‘Save kids from French jungle’
A number of Syrian children recently reunified with their families in Britain have written an open letter to the UK government, calling on London to take their “friends out of danger.”
The children, who described themselves as the lucky ones, wrote that they will never forget the “horrific months” they spent in northern France or the friends they have left behind.
Help Refugees, a UK charity for refugees, said in April that 129 unaccompanied people had gone missing from the “Jungle” shortly after French police demolished the southern part of the camp in March.
Police forcibly evicted thousands of people from the site using tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.
Currently, there are around 4,946 at the Calais refugee camp, around 500 of whom are children.
Reports said in March that more than three quarters of refugees and asylum seekers living in the Calais refugee camp had been subject to mistreatment at the hands of French police.