Back in May of this year I wrote a blog about the 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees who have disappeared since reaching Europe, travelling without the care of an adult thereby making them highly vulnerable. I said that the blog would be a starting point for me on the issue of child refugees.
The 10,000 Missing Children Project
Since then myself and two friends (Karen Cowley and Fiona Carey) have been working on a project to collect signatures to get Europe to address the need for policy change regarding this issue and established Bray Refugee Solidarity. This blog is about documenting what has happened since that first blog, reflecting on where the Refugee solidarity movement is at this moment in time, and arguing why we need to keep up the momentum for children’s rights now more than ever.
After I wrote the blog, we conducted research over several weeks on the 10,000 missing children in Europe, and we found in the most basic sense policy change was needed. This policy change was regarding identification, first interaction, training, housing facilities and family reunification (to name but a few.) The full list of demands (fully footnoted) that we formulated for our campaign can be read here.
We then utilised our networks from the entertainment industry in Ireland and asked some famous faces to take part in our campaign video. The authentic and genuine emotional response from those involved in the video on filming day was encouraging. They all took the time to listen closely about the issue and expressed their dismay at how this could happen. The final lines of the video were unscripted, as we asked them to finish the sentence ‘I am singing because…’. Their reasons are their own, and indicate the real human response felt by the many people who have already signed the petition.
At the moment we are on 27,893 signatures and we have partnered up with Missing Children Europe to translate the petition and bring it to other European countries. Bringing noise to the 10,000 missing children is important, but is one small piece in the jigsaw of refugee solidarity in Ireland currently.
The refugee solidarity movement in Ireland
‘Not on Our Watch’ is a network of multi-disciplinary volunteers and allies who work in solidarity with refugee, migrant and undocumented communities in Ireland. Bray Refugee solidarity are a part of Not on Our Watch, and we are all mindful of the struggle of unaccompanied minors as an extremely important part of our campaigning. Calais, the refugee camp in France was dismantled last week. Not On Our Watch is calling for Ireland to step up and take 200 of the unaccompanied minors that will be affected by the destruction of the camp. This is being debated in the Dáil tonight and Not on Our Watch are holding a vigil outside the Dáil at 7pm.
While it is important for development educators to know what is happening in Ireland (and I hope that the above has given a very brief outline of that), what is most important to say is why. Recently, I heard the phrase shouted at me ‘Yea but we don’t want them here’ meaning we, in Ireland, don’t want them, meaning refugees, here. The person was silenced by simply posing the question, why? They had no answer.
There IS a strong why for why we need to continue campaigning for child refugee rights and these are worth having in one’s advocacy armoury:
- Approximately half of the internationally displaced people are children and youth. The scale of the crisis and suffering is extortionate, and cannot be ignored.
- Children have rights under the UN convention of the rights of the child. If we cannot fulfill each child’s basic rights as a society, then we are failing as a country to protect our most vulnerable, and undermining the very concept of human rights.
- On the 24th of October it was reported that among the chaos of the destruction of Calais a lone 8 year old child along with 48 other minors are stuck in Calais Camp as the UK Home Office registration is closed and it was expected up to 1,000 children would be ordered to remain in shipping containers while as a living space until they could be properly processed, despite families and children had already been evacuated from the shipping containers in the first place. Imagine it was your child? What would you do? What would you want others to do?
- Since the death of Aylan Kurdi (the 3 year old boy who’s body washed up on the shore in Turkey ) and average of two children have died every day in the Mediterranean, according to data from the Missing Migrants Project. Who wouldn’t be affected by this scale of loss of innocent lives?
When in educational contexts or even when talking with others, it is important to know why we are giving development issues such as the Syrian crisis and migration our attention and to stay informed of what is happening on the ground. There’s no doubt that that the movement will change again in the coming months but the why remains an important reminder and as a guide in returning to the reasons behind our solidarity actions and the kind of activism we decide to take.