The Home Office this week refused the call of some Conservative MPs to carry out dental checks on child migrants to clarify their age. A spokesperson described the checks as “inaccurate, inappropriate, and unethical”.
The scandal erupted after a Daily Mail article claimed that some child migrants brought from Calais into the UK may not be under the age of 18. The evidence? One particular migrant was identified as “having the features of a 38-year old” by a facial recognition program. The minors, who all have family based in the UK, were taken in before the French government demolishes the Calais camp, known as "The Jungle" next week.
David Davies, Conservative MP, led calls for dental inspections on the Calais children. The British Dental Association responded, saying that using x-rays to examine refugees is “not only an inaccurate method for assessing age, but it is both inappropriate and unethical”.
Even TV personality Piers Morgan waded into the debate, attacking Davies’ idea as “quite offensive” in a stormy online exchange with the controversial politician.
I want immediate dental checks on all our MPs to see if they are actually human beings. Shame on you @DavidTCDavies. #refugees— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) October 19, 2016
Indeed, many more have leapt in defence of the child migrants. The question of their age has been forced in front of the world, and has faced immense criticism.
“The children we work with have experienced massive trauma, fleeing their homes and living for months in dangerous conditions in Calais,” said Jonathan Clark, leader of Citizens UK. “Those who have experienced such hardship often look older than their years”.
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The controversy doesn’t stop there — the Sun joined the fray today. On its front page, it called for Gary Lineker, Match of the Day pundit and former footballer, to be sacked by the BBC after describing public attacks on the child migrants as “hideously racist”. Lineker defended the children on Twitter, and immediately became a target of the latest backlash.
The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What's happening to our country?— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) October 18, 2016
The "journalist" behind hit job on @GaryLineker was convicted of handling stolen phone, welcomed back to The Sun. Can we fire him instead? pic.twitter.com/d0kh28eAwM— Tom Warren (@tomwarren) October 21, 2016
Of course, Lineker is far from the only celebrity scapegoat. Last week, Lily Allen was public enemy No. 1, after visiting the camp at Calais to see for herself the squalor of its children. There are still over 1,000 unaccompanied children still stuck in Calais. Yet Allen was vilified for drawing attention to their invisibility. Compassion, it seems, is apparently incompatible with fame. The Afghan teenager she apologised to in her viral video visit to Calais has this week also arrived in the UK.
Wow, so much abuse for apologizing to a helpless child for the part this country has played in contributing to his dire situation.— lily allen (@lilyallen) October 12, 2016
Thursday's Daily Star:— Nick Sutton (@suttonnick) October 12, 2016
Lily Allen apologises to migrants on behalf of UK#tomorrowspaperstoday#bbcpaperspic.twitter.com/MMWU6RePIY
The argument so far has focused closely on the age of the child migrants. But the unfortunate refugee who has had his image plastered across national newspapers was one of just 14 minors who were reunited with British relatives in the UK. Before the resettlement program began, the UK had taken less than 20 of almost 90,000 unaccompanied child minors seeking asylum in Europe. Perhaps media outrage should be thrown less at “how old”, but at “how many”?
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Misdirected anger from the press leads to disconnected empathy from the public. Just this week, the UK’s regulatory press commission ruled that a columnist from The Sun was free to condemn Fatima Manji's right to wear a hijab on live television. Is this just freedom of speech? What sort of message is sent out when newspapers consistently target women like Emma Watson and Amal Clooney simply for making their voices heard on issues of equality? Now that the Home Office has delivered a commendably strong statement in support of the child migrants, will the public decide that this time the tabloid press has gone too far?
Getting a bit of a spanking today, but things could be worse: Imagine, just for a second, being a refugee having to flee from your home.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) October 21, 2016