Refugee Week 2014 – Different pasts, shared future

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Across the globe, as populations are dispersed by war, famine and persecution, as families are separated in the chaos, around half of those displaced are children.   Over a thousand arrive in the UK every year, unaccompanied.

In Syria, in Iraq, in CAR, for example, families fleeing  violence find themselves in transit with all of the accompanying hazards,  or in camps where facilities are strained to the limit as people keep arriving.   How can parents keep their children safe, fed, and physically healthy, let alone attend to their education, and their mental wellbeing?   How can we, comfortable and safe as we are in comparison, imagine the choices that those parents have to make?  How would we weigh the risks of remaining, against those of abandoning home and community?  Could we, should we, send children to safety without us, as many parents in Europe did in 1938-9, knowing that we might never see them again, and not knowing what future they will face in a strange country?

And when they arrive in the UK, after whatever trials and hazards they have encountered on the journey, there are new difficulties to  face.  Our asylum system leaves many refugee families in destitution while their cases are considered, and parents are unable to work.   They cannot choose where to settle, and so education and friendships are disrupted by frequent moves, as well as made more difficult by language and cultural barriers.   And at any time, there may be a knock on the door, and a removal to detention, awaiting deportation back to the horrors that they fled.

Just a look through the papers over the last few days indicates what children in so many parts of the world are facing right now.

Vehicles crammed with men, woman and children who are fleeing the threat of violence, kidnapping and rape, were queuing at checkpoints at the frontier of Iraq’s Kurdish region yesterday.  The refugees were among about half-a-million people who have fled their homes since Monday (Independent)

Thousands cross the southern U.S. border illegally each year in hopes of better lives. But now the problem has reached epic proportions, with children … fleeing the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. And they are arriving in the United States alone — without a parent or guardian. (CNN)

Over a million Syrian refugees have arrived in Lebanon, fleeing the conflict in their country. Syrians now make up a quarter of the population of this tiny Mediterranean country. Many were forced to leave with only what they could carry, and are living in desperate poverty. Finding work is difficult, and many families are forced to send their children out to work to make ends meet. (Guardian)

The day after the army attack in Minova, 130 rape victims arrived at Masika’s displaced women’s camp. Seventeen of the girls were under 18. The youngest was 11. (Independent)

Meanwhile Unicef report that six months since intense fighting reached Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, scores of children have been killed, hundreds have been maimed and thousands have been displaced.

The theme of Refugee Week 2014 is refugee children, ‘different pasts, shared future’.  It’s also a shared responsibility.  The reasons why people become refugees are many and various, but for the most part, they stem from adult actions which rebound most severely upon the smallest, the most vulnerable, the most helpless.  So, over the next week I will be giving my blog space over to refugee stories, past and present, highlighting the work that’s being done by refugee organisations nationally and internationally – those who help refugees to survive, and those who help them to live once they have found a place of safety.  Also check out my Refugee Week blogs from 2012 and 2013 via the archive.

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