Young People's Zone
Children in crisis: fleeing to safer shores
As people talk of ‘surges’ & ‘swarms’ of migrants, I think of the increasing number of refugee children arriving in the UK without anyone to look after them – unaccompanied, uncertain, alone.
As a specialist advocate for young refugees and migrants I am very much aware of the suffering they endure. I have worked with many children that have experienced violence, trauma and abuse and have had extremely difficult journeys across continents; some may have lost family members on their harrowing journey. Once here, they often continue to suffer from isolation, separation and loss – worsened by language barriers, trouble understanding complex systems and accessing services. Some have faced hostility from professionals and local communities. They are extremely vulnerable and open to exploitation & trafficking.
Despite working with this group for many years, I am greatly saddened by the latest images flashing across our television screens. The issue is presented as a crisis for Europe yet all I can think of is the crises that these people are trying to escape, and how horrendous and frightening it must be to be separated from your family, facing such uncertainty.
This dire situation, this humanitarian crisis, does not remain on distant shores. When unaccompanied children arrive in the UK their situation inherently means that responsibility for their care & safety falls on the state. They are without their parents or a guardian, do not have anyone to look after them in this country and require accommodation. Children's Social Care has a responsibility to look after them under the Children Act 1989. As they are arriving in Kent, it falls on Kent County Council to ensure the rights and needs of these children are met. Figures show that 720 unaccompanied children seeking asylum are now in Kent County Council's care - up from nearly 630 at the start of August.
Coram Voice was asked by the Children’s Commissioner to make a helpline service available for children and young people to get free advice and we are happy to be able to play a part in supporting the work already being undertaken by Kent Children’s Services to provide them with the support and protection they desperately need. (Children can call the Coram Voice helpline on 0808 800 5792, Monday to Friday from 9.30 am until 6.00 pm.)
But this is not enough…
Coram Voice believes it is essential that the extra funding the treasury has promised to local authorities to support refugees includes provision for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children through Children’s Services. This is particularly important for those local authorities, like Kent, who, as entry points to the UK, will have a particularly high number of children in need of support.
Last month, BBC Radio Kent reported that there are no more foster placements available. The local council & local communities are under pressure to provide services for these new arrivals. But we would all do well to remember that first & foremost they are children. They have already faced a great deal of trauma and we must do all that we can to ensure that their experiences here do not further their suffering. They need safety & security so that they can begin their journey of recovery.
Afsana Aramesh, Coram Voice Specialist Advocate for Young Refugees & Asylum Seekers
(Blog was also published online in Huffington Post on 22nd September 2015.)