LONDON (Reuters) - Actress and activist Vanessa Redgrave delivered a letter to Britain's prime minister on Friday calling for unaccompanied child refugees in Calais to be brought to Britain if they have families in Britain.
The letter, signed by the 79-year-old screen and stage veteran and politician Alf Dubs, called for an immediate amnesty for the minors identified by Citizens UK, which since last year has been working in the northern French city with child refugees who have family in Britain.
Earlier this year, French authorities dismantled the southern half of the Calais camp, known as "The Jungle", where thousands of migrants fleeing war or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have massed, hoping to go to the UK.
"There's 170 children who have relatives in this country and they've been in Calais under terrible conditions, for about nine months some of them. It's an appalling situation," Redgrave told Reuters.
"(Prime Minister) Theresa May has stated that she's going to allot money against the slavery programs. Well, these children are being abandoned to slavery whatever form it is, sex or otherwise."
Former Prime Minister David Cameron said in May Britain would take more Syrian child refugees who had made it to Europe. The Home Office has said up to 3,000 Syrian and other child refugees from camps in the Middle East and North Africa are to be resettled in Britain over the next four years
Citizens UK said in a statement they had reunited more than 40 children with their Britain-based families, but lawyers say the process is long. Three children a week are being reunited on average, it said, and "at the current rate of reunification, many will face another winter in Calais".
A committee of MPs recommended this week unaccompanied minors should be welcomed to the UK in "a one-off action".
"We have committed through the Immigration Act 2016 to resettle vulnerable children from Europe," a Home Office spokesman said. "We are consulting with local authorities to confirm available capacity and to ensure appropriate support systems are in place."
He said Britain was also in "active discussions" with the UN refugee agency and other European governments to "to strengthen and speed up mechanisms to identify, assess and transfer unaccompanied refugee children to the UK and ensure this in their best interests".
(Reporting By Alex Fraser; Writing by Georgina Cooper and Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Larry King)