Why child refugees need a home in the UK
Neil Mathers explains what child refugees who are separated from their parents and going through and why the UK should no more to help them
Why aren’t we doing more for the most vulnerable children on earth?
Most of us will have seen the heart-breaking images on the nightly news of small children trudging through snow with their parents, shivering from the cold, on what seems like an endless journey to safety.
More than a million refugees have crossed Europe in 2015 alone, fleeing violence and conflict. Governments predicted that the numbers would decrease as the winter began and the weather reached sub-zero temperatures, but it has steadily risen.
Ali has been travelling for seven months and has been beaten by smugglers, thieves and police on his journey
Imagine what it feels like for those children who are alone on this journey, who don’t have their parents for support and who are just desperately trying to make their way to a country where they will find safety and shelter. Some are as young as ten, most are teenagers, but they are no less vulnerable than the toddler clutching their parent’s hands – they are still just children.
Lone children are particularly vulnerable – many ending up in unmanaged camps, and sleeping rough in stations and sports halls. These children are at serious risk of witnessing violence, and falling victim to abuse and exploitation at the hands of people traffickers.
There’s an urgent need to address the issue of children arriving in Europe alone without anyone to care for them. We estimate at least 26,000 arrived in Europe in 2015, double the number that arrived in 2014. Some come from Syria but many come from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia – countries where sadly children are often not safe.
Ali*, 14, is from Afghanistan and has been sleeping in one of the city’s parks where refugees and migrants stay until they are able to continue their journey. Our team met Ali in Belgrade where Save the Children runs a mobile Child Friendly Space in this park.
Ali has been travelling for seven months and has been beaten by smugglers, thieves and police on his journey before reaching Serbia. He was also robbed by thieves who took everything from him, even his clothes.
Ali said: “In Afghanistan, there is still fighting, so I escaped from there seven months ago. We weren’t allowed to go to school. They wouldn’t even let my mother and sisters leave the house. Where I lived, children don’t go to
“My father was killed in the violence there. My grandfather told me ‘this is no place for you to live – you have to run, go to a safe country.’ He told me ‘your father was killed, you will be the next.’
“I don’t know where my mother and three sisters are at the moment – they also escaped from Afghanistan, after me. I am here alone.
“I want to have a safe life. After this trip, I don’t ever want to see any fighting again. I don’t want to face anything bad ever again.”
Save the Children is calling on the UK government to do its fair share and offer a home for up to 3,000 unaccompanied children who have arrived in Europe without their parents.
We have done this before – we took in 10,000 mostly Jewish children fleeing persecution just before the Second World War and we resettled 20,000 refugees fleeing the Vietnam War.
Until the EU provides safe and legal ways to apply for asylum in countries of origin and transit, which ensure human rights and respects dignity, people, including lone children, will continue to risk their lives to reach the safety of Europe.
Neil Mathers is head of Save the Children in Scotland