Last Chance for child refugees as Government urged to act

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Actresses Carey Mulligan, Juliet Stevenson, Joely Richardson and her mother Vanessa Redgrave laid down the law in a rousing reading of asylum legislation in a last plea to the Government to help child refugees in Calais.

The Young Vic theatre in London hosted the poignant performance of the Dublin III regulation, which sets out a child's right to claim asylum, in a production called Last Chance.

It was standing room only as those keen to understand more about the intricacies of the law, and drawn by the big acting names, packed out the studio space.

Covering articles of the regulation including guarantees for minors, family procedure and obligations of the member state responsible - none of those taking part had read the legislation beforehand or rehearsed it.

Mulligan, the 31-year-old Suffragette star who is married to Mumford and Sons frontman Marcus Mumford, captured the attention of the audience as she delivered a joint reading.

Citing the definition of a child as set out in the legalisation, Mulligan said: "'Minor' means a third-country national or a stateless person below the age of 18 years."

Adding: "The best interests of the child should be the primary consideration for member states."

In a mock European Union bench, draped in the blue and gold starred flags, Mulligan planted an English flag alongside the Union Jack.

With the so-called Jungle camp - the sprawling site housing thousands of migrants in Calais set to be demolished in a matter of days - the reading of the legislation was used as a last call to the Government to speed up the resettlement process of minors.

It was staged by the charity Good Chance and saw actors Samuel West and John Pfumojena join Mulligan, Stevenson, Richardson and Redgrave, for the performance, alongside refugees who now live in the UK.

The event also included a replica of the camp made out of cardboard boxes, a virtual reality video tour of the French town and cut-outs from the Paper People Project.

In a question and answer session before the delivery of the wording of the Dublin III regulation began, Stevenson said the situation for unaccompanied children in Calais has become "ever more urgent".

Describing the camp, the 59-year-old Truly, Madly, Deeply star said: "It is a really, really toxic, anxious, aggressive place to be. People are leaving."

Dismayed at the slow progress to bring eligible children over to the UK, she said it is "terrific" the Government has finally "turned their attention to the issue".

But she said the problem with their late response is obvious, giving them "only a week" to undertake the "complicated business" of getting the children to one place and registered.

Stevenson added: "The concern is because it is all very last minute, because they (the Government) don't have experience on the ground, the identifying of which children belong in which category is very difficult to achieve in an atmosphere of fear, panic and chaos."

Founded by playwrights, Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, Good Chance is a project which brings theatre and performance to the Calais camp through writing workshops, music and acting.

Hosting visiting artists and staging refugee performances, their theatre was dismantled in March 2016.

The pair had set up the creative space in the Jungle after they were overwhelmed by the number of unaccompanied children living there.

"Let's imagine being alone and being a child. You haven't your parents, you haven't got any relatives or anybody to guide you," said Mr Murphy.

"They are stuck in the most awful conditions you can imagine. We are so privileged, we don't know that we are born. These children are alone and having to deal with the worst that this world can throw at them."

Mr Murphy and Mr Robertson, in a joint opening speech, said: "It is easy to talk about humanitarian crisis in a world when every other day something terrible happens.

"But what is happening in Calais, right now, today, is a humanitarian crisis. A crisis particularly felt by the children. And it is 58 minutes away on the Eurostar.

"Among the 10,000 residents over 1,000 are kids - totally on their own."

They added: "The Government has a legal and moral obligation to help those children."

Under Dublin III children can have their asylum claim transferred from their arrival point in Europe to another country if they have family members living there.

Additionally the amendment to the Immigration Act 2016 made by Lord Alf Dubs requires the Government to relocate unaccompanied refugee children from Europe.

Stevenson said to the audience before the reading that there are 387 children within Calais that fall into these two groups.

Those watching heard how that since Monday, 36 unaccompanied children have been brought to the UK from Calais, which Mr Murphy and Mr Robertson said was not "fast enough".