RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And by the way, foreign affairs did come up in the debate last night. Immigration, migration is a big issue this year in American politics generally, as it is in Europe. And we go now to France, where authorities are dismantling a refugee camp in the port city of Calais. Asylum-seekers built it when they were blocked from crossing the channel to Britain. Humanitarian groups accuse France of endangering camp residents, including unaccompanied minors. Young refugees are supposed to get special protection, but NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports they don't get that protection everywhere.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In Sweden and Germany, it is very difficult to meet an unaccompanied minor. Those asylum-seekers are mostly living in special facilities where their privacy can be protected. But I meet 13-year-old Afghan Imran as soon as I walk into the unofficial migrant camp outside the northern French city of Calais.
And how old are you?
BEARDSLEY: And you come by yourself from Afghanistan to France?
BEARDSLEY: We won't use his last name to protect his identity.
IMRAN: (Foreign language spoken).
BEARDSLEY: Imran says his father is dead and his mother wanted him to leave Afghanistan for his own safety. He says it took him eight months to reach this port city and this squalid camp, known as the Jungle. Imran says his mother told him he has an uncle in the U.K., and now he's hoping to get there. Felicity Parsisson works with Jungle Books, a British charity that helps children here. She says unaccompanied minors are vulnerable.
FELICITY PARSISSON: They've been here for a long time now, you know? It's hard. The longer they're out of the school system, the longer they're here without proper care-taking and responsibility, the harder it's going to be for them in the future.
BEARDSLEY: When I was reporting on this issue in Sweden, I learned that unaccompanied minors are each assigned a legal guardian. But in this camp that's not even supposed to exist, neither the French nor British governments are keeping track of minors. Christian Salome of the charity Auberge des Migrants says they've been pushing French and British authorities to take responsibility for the children here.
CHRISTIAN SALOME: We asked for somewhere to take care of underage people, even if they want to go to U.K. Normally, in every country, the government is obliged to take care of the children.
BEARDSLEY: Sarah Crowe of UNICEF says Europe's disjointed and arbitrary handling of the migrant crisis is hardest on unaccompanied minors. She says they're often lost and vulnerable when borders suddenly close and the rules change.
SARAH CROWE: This is a point at which smugglers and traffickers will be preying upon the unaccompanied. They clearly don't know what's going on; they don't speak the language.
FARID HAMDAN: (Foreign language spoken).
BEARDSLEY: Imran isn't completely alone in the Jungle. Another asylum-seeker, 35-year-old Farid Hamdan, also from Afghanistan, has taken him under his wing. Hamdan says he has four children of his own back home.
HAMDAN: Because he's child, I just - my heart is saying help them. You know, like, for nobody have here to look after him. When I look after him, he's happy. Sometimes I just give them, like, you know, I find some clothes to give him because he's kids. He don't know anything.
IMRAN: (Foreign language spoken).
BEARDSLEY: Imran shows me where he sleeps - all by himself in a rough lean-to. There's a foam mattress and trash on the floor. He points to a hole in the tarp roof where water is coming through. Imran says he hasn't been to school in two years, but he has tried to jump on a truck going to Britain. He says it was scary, and he won't try again. After talking to me for a while, Imran says he's getting bored, and like any other kid, he runs off to play. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Calais, France.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.