Lost Journeys: The Stories of Child Refugees

Professionals, academics and students from all subject areas attended ‘Lost Journeys: The Stories of Child Refugees’ on Tuesday

Faisal’s story

Professionals, academics and students from all subject areas attended ‘Lost Journeys: The Stories of Child Refugees’ on Tuesday, organised by the Queen Mary University of London’s Human Rights Collegium. The event opened with a speech from QM’s Professor of International Human Rights Law, Geraldine Van Bueren, who introduced the event in memory of Professor Lisa Jardine – for whom the plight of refugees was paramount.

Ice and Fire drama group performed three poignant non-fictional refugee stories, before a panel discussion began with speakers: Don Flynn, Director at Migrants Rights Network, Professor Heaven Crawley, Chair in International Migration and Dr Violeta Moreno-Lax, Director and Co-founder of the LLM in Immigration Law Programme.

‘Extending rights’

The speakers relayed contemporary issues, stories and solutions common to the ‘refugee crisis’ we are experiencing – issues that are not regularly touched upon in daily media coverage. Refugee children’s policy, for Flynn, is an issue at the heart of what is going wrong with policy. The percentage of ‘child refugees’ coming to Europe is rising, and it is of growing importance that we change policy to fit both demand and circumstance. Before, it was common for most refugees to be young men, perhaps political activists, running from their country under political pressure and corruption. Now, Flynn explained, whole communities are being ripped apart by war. Instead of refugees arriving as individuals, whole families are having to leave their homes – and half of these refugees are under 18.

Europe, in response, is unprepared. Children are at a special disadvantage, with no real concession given to their age. In the UK, many young refugees are given a ‘UASC’ label ‘ Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Child’. This label is a double edged sword – children are given protection by the UK but only until 18, when they will be forced to leave and return to the country they fled from.

‘You’re not 14’

Children are often not believed when they relate their age to authorities. Indeed, a video from the Refugee Council at the beginning of the event (see link above) described Faisal’s situation, who was held in a detention centre for weeks as authorities did not accept his story.

Professor Heaven Crawley explained the issue and it’s possible roots – and it is largely down to how we, the UK, conceptualises childhood. Our laws are are arranged chronologically: the legal age of sex is 16, the drinking age is 18. But we need to recognise cultural difference and relativity. Not all cultures will follow the same ‘conceptualisation’ of childhood development. A 14 year old in one place may be ‘like’ a 16 year old in another. How can the UK begin to reconcile cultural difference in order to treat refugee children well, as they deserve to be treated?

The cause of this confusion is often down to the child’s story. A child who has been subject to generalised violence; separated from their parents on the journey, perhaps carrying stories of sexual harassment, abuse or trafficking – would seem older than their age.

Crawley interviewed a young refugee named Michael:

It is a crucial time now to adapt policy so that we may find each child’s lost journey, and begin to meet the needs of the child.

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