Providing a New Life for Refugee Children

Consider 10,000 people in tents and containers. Consider their removal and dispersal and violence and xenophobia and fear. Now think of 88,000 children alone in a continent they were most likely not born in, but there due to a past that is as overwhelming as the bleak future. Now imagine 65,000,000 displaced people around the world.

It isn’t easy.

The problem is so difficult to grasp that even governments struggle to come up with a solution. Sprawling makeshift cities make up shockingly high percentages of the populations of Jordan and Lebanon. Shady deals with dangerous quasi-dictators demonstrate the desperation of European leaders to find an easy solution to this monumental issue.

Viewing it then as a monolith is, frankly, terrifying, much the same way another global crisis in climate change is. The sheer number of asylum seekers also make the issue easy to dehumanise. Words in politician’s rhetoric such as ‘swarm’ and ‘invasion’, gleefully propagated by biased media, reflect this. In contrast when images such as a dead child on a Turkish beach surface and gain popular traction, the common feeling is sympathy and outright shock. This sad lesson is nevertheless important in what it should teach us; that everything has an individual level, every problem can be broken down.

So let’s focus on an immediate, distressing but relatively minute problem. Around 1000 unaccompanied asylum seeker children are in France being processed, many to come to the United Kingdom to be re-dispersed throughout local councils. Some are here already; local councils like Cardiff in Wales have been exemplary in their attitude towards the issue, others have already complained of a strain on their resources. This is understandable. Per a report by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services in March of this year there were around 4,659 UASC in council care. There will be more now since the October closure of the Calais Jungle. The government gives around 50% of the funding for these children, many of whom are over 16, and over 90%of which are male. Significant problems arise out of a lack of foster carers coming forward to help shoulder the burden. Many councils such as Staffordshire are issuing repeated calls for people to come forward.

The government’s attitude towards those in Calais and beyond has been reprehensible, immoral and irresponsible. Without really having a plan, the demolition of the camp has had consequences from a third of the 179 tracked children by Refugee Youth Services going missing, to last minute questions over how legitimately under age these children are. There are several schemes in place for local councils, for example the national transfer scheme, and there will be a report published in six months’ time.

There needs to be a new plan to provide adequate care for these children. There needs to be properly organised provision for the mental health issues that are faced by 75% of UASCs, English lessons to better aid integration into our society, and extra-curricular activities such as football teams to help foster a sense of belonging. The more dispersed these young men are, the more stretched the services become. How can we expect to provide the same type of care for a child in Leeds as for one in Cornwall, how can we expect them to become integrated when they’re isolated.

In the wake of World War II, the Pestalozzi children’s village in Switzerland was created to give displaced children a home and a future through a holistic approach to education both academically and vocationally. It was an idea that spread, including to the U.K, where the Sussex based Pestalozzi village still exists. Today the villages offer their services to financially disadvantaged children.
Another example; North of Kampala in Uganda the SOS Children’s Villages provide healthcare, education and hope for thousands of children who have faced extreme difficulties in their nascent lives.

I believe that these examples should form a blueprint to solving the multiple issues faced by the local councils, the individuals and the government in creating a viable and safe environment for refugee children. Instead of separating them, pool council resources together so that, for example, Liverpool, St. Helens and Birkenhead councils can support a large-ish number of children collectively, offering without debilitating health services, education and so on. Local sports clubs can be involved and the logistics will be significantly simpler. Legal and foster groups will have focal points for their efforts instead of scattered and disjointed individuals.

Of course there are issues; when discussing this with a colleague recently he remarked that the biggest danger would be the villages becoming a ghetto. That is why integration is key. For example schools working with the UASC communities can help the refugees become part of the larger society, it can help local children, and local communities, become involved and better understand the plight of their peers. Workshops can be better organised, and the centralisation of the children allows them to help each other understand their new home in the United Kingdom.

It is not perfect, there is very little in this issue that is. What it is is a breaking down of the larger problem. It is a humane and rounded approach to safeguard the lives and future of these children. The work of the numerous charities working with refugees is worthy of the highest praise, and individuals such as Josie Naughton who began Help Refugees are demonstrative of how every one of us can act to help with the crisis. But we must find a long lasting solution, for the sake of the children who have already suffered enough.


Neil Walker

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