Sunday, 29 May 2016

I would like all unaccompanied children

to have a safe place, a home, adults who care for them, food, clothing, education and the opportunity to be children.
But, and there is a but, they have to be unaccompanied children. I know there was an outcry when the UK government recently voted against allowing entry to unaccompanied refugee children. I was upset too - because I want all children to have a safe place. There are far too many children without a safe place and it makes me angry - very very angry.
Children don't start wars. They aren't politicians or religious clerics or outspoken fools. They learn from these people but children don't start out that way. A two year old doesn't know about religious and ethnic differences. A ten year old is learning fast. They will already have some very set ideas.
Getting people to change their opinions is notoriously difficult. Even when they appear to have changed them it takes very little to revert back to their previous beliefs.  Psychological experiments have shown this but groups like the Jesuits knew it long ago. Grab them young and you have them for life even if they appear to have changed their views.
And this is one of the things that bothers me about the unaccompanied children we are all being asked  to take in. Many of them are not children at all. They are teenagers, male teenagers. They are being used by adults. Some are being sent by desperate parents in the hope that a son will make it safely to a country which will feed, clothe, house and educate him. I don't blame them in the slightest. I am sure I would do the same.
Others are being sent in the hope that it will keep them out of further trouble. They have been running wild in countries in turmoil. They are law breakers. In peace time these teens might have been no more difficult than most teens but turmoil has allowed them to go much further.
Some are being used as an "advance ticket". People hope that if a "child" gets in to their  country of choice then the rest of the family will be able to follow. Again, all too often it's a measure of desperation.
Almost all of these are teenage males.
And then there are other children, real children without any adult to be responsible for them. Sometimes a mother of other children will watch out for them in a limited way or let them sleep under the same piece of plastic sheeting and share the limited food supply with them. It's asking a lot though when you are desperate to make sure your own children are safe and survive.
There are more of these children than we are ever told about. Mothers will sometimes lie about a child being theirs if they believe that saying otherwise will put a child in further danger - and then need to abandon them later.
Children get separated from their families too. Some run away from violent and abusive homes. Others have tried to care for adults who are ill, injured or insane.  All too often it is the girls who are doing this - and caring for younger siblings. 
War is incredibly messy as well as frightening. It doesn't treat people fairly. Some people make it and others don't.  Anyone with any empathy at all surely cheered loudly when Noujain Mustaffa finally saw her brother in Germany. It was a "feel good" story among all some of the most distressing news  of the time.
I was asked yesterday how I would choose which unaccompanied children to bring in first if we can't bring them all in. It's a question I cannot answer. When I am faced with two or more equally urgent pieces of work my general gut response is to go with what will be of the most benefit to a child but to choose between children is something I cannot answer. I want to say "all". All I can think of saying is "start with the youngest and, from there, those who have the least and try to reach a point where we have provided for all of them".
I just wish it could work like that but I know it doesn't, won't and can't. I just want them all to be safe.


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