“We know where we're going… We know where we're from,” sang Bob Marley, to a different context in a different era.
This year, hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes in a mass exodus across the globe. They know where they’re from, some knew where they were going, but not everyone made it.
Violence and suffering has reached an all-time high in Syria. The world is currently witnessing the largest movement of people since the end of World War II. Some 13.5 million people have been affected by the conflict in Syria alone* - almost half of them are children.
Selam, 10, left Damascus because of the bombs. The boat taking her to Greece sank after leaving the Turkish coast. Selam and her family would have died if they hadn’t been rescued by a Greek coastguard.
Selam had no choice but to flee. For her, “The bombs were worse than the sinking boat.”
Lack of humanity
Yet, with stories of children suffering widespread, why does a lack of humanity still surround the refugee and migrant crisis? Is it down to semantics? Some refer to those on the move as refugees – a person forced to leave their country in order to escape war or persecution. To others, they are migrants - a person moving to find work or better living conditions. Does it really matter?
Terminology too often dehumanises children and their families, leaving them little more than a statistic or word.
In these desperate times, the world needs to do more especially for young children, travelling without parents and leaving everything they know behind
Yet, each child trying to navigate to safety is a human, with a name and a story to tell. They have been torn away from their culture and childhood. They are unable to play with their friends and go to school. War and violence have put a break on the life they once knew and some may never go back to school unless donors are more generous. This humanitarian crisis is made up of individuals and children like Selam.
Over 900,000 people* navigated the treacherous journey to Europe in 2014 and 2015.
In this situation, it is necessary to respect the international laws that protect the rights of the refugees and migrants as humans. However, legal terms and semantics shouldn’t become an excuse for inaction. The world needs to be more considerate to children and others in need of humanitarian assistance.
According to the António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees: “There is definitely a battle of values, with compassion on one side and fear on the other.”
Coordinated response required
It’s clear we have failed to launch a coordinated and humane approach to this crisis. Lack of political will has left a dark mark on the collective conscience of the world. This needs to change.
Rays of hope exist and we should build on them, not on the existing fear. To help overcome fear, we need to educate and help prepare people in Europe and countries receiving refugees.
Plan International is supporting refugees in Egypt and Germany. We are committed to expanding our work because this situation isn’t going to disappear. The UN expects the same level of arrivals in 2016, because “the facts that are causing people to move aren't going away"*.
In these desperate times, the world needs to do more especially for young children, travelling without parents and leaving everything they know behind.
For a traumatised child who has braved bullets, bombs and boats, a humane gesture from a friendly border guard is a ray of hope.
There are a handful of isolated stories of ordinary people showing compassion. I am heartened when I hear about them taking care of refugees and migrants arriving into Europe, a continent with a long history of responding to and hosting refugees.
No child is born refugee or migrant - no child is born “illegal”. Children deserve care, safety and dignity. This comes first and shouldn’t be lost in definitions. To make this happen, politicians need to place people and children over politics; bureaucrats and border police be empowered to put humanity over semantics and keep the borders open – after all, we are not defined by how we describe others, but how we choose to respond to them.
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