RYS was born in Calais in 2016 in the 'Jungle'; the result of a small group of volunteers coming together to provide a safe space for the countless unaccompanied children residing there. We have been present ever since, dedicated to supporting unaccompanied children to access their rights, to cease life threatening journeys, and resume their childhoods in France, the UK, or elsewhere.
Whilst over the years we have, together as a network of organisations in both Calais and Dunkirk, helped thousands of children this way, the future of yet-to-arrive unaccompanied children in northern France, sadly remains largely the same; a hostile environment that consists of a dysfunctional state child protection system, inhumane border policies and police violence. We therefore made the decision 18-months ago that a new strategy was needed, to induce broader, systemic change. Acknowledging the limitations of a British organisation working in France we set-out to source, and secure funding for, an established French organisation to take over the work.
We are delighted to announce that this process has been successful. From September this year RYS will begin to exit northern France whilst ECPAT France will be onboarded to carry the work forward. This transition period and handover will last approximately a month, following which RYS will continue to support remotely; ensuring the knowledge and insight gained over the past six years is not lost.
ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking), founded in 1997, promotes the rights of the child and fights against all forms of violence against, and exploitation of, children and young people under 25, in particular trafficking in any form. As a large organisation, with strong links and connections at French, EU and international level for advocacy, we believe that ECPAT has the potential to change the outlook of all current and future unaccompanied minors in northern France.
In 2016, upon hearing that the Calais 'Jungle' would be imminently closed, we made the following public promise to unaccompanied children: "We will continue to support you in your search for safety, and will do so until you find it. We will continue to advocate for the changes required for you to receive the protection, and live in the safety, that you deserve. And we will continue to support you in any way we can, in life beyond the Jungle."
Five years later, we still believe that in that promise and taking this decision is the next step in fulfilling it. We are confident that we have exhausted all opportunities to catalyse change, and whilst choosing to exit northern France is the hardest decision we have yet had to make, we are certain it is a positive and exciting one. We feel that there is strengthened hope for unaccompanied children living in limbo at the UK border, with the solid ongoing and future cooperation of all relevant associations.
Between now and October RYS will focus on finishing well, and will remain dedicated to the children it supports until the very last day.
To everyone who has been part of this journey, through the offering of time, financial and material resources, we are sincerely grateful. We look forward to sharing regular updates on the work of ECPAT in northern France, in the coming years.