I travelled to Thessaloniki in Greece, and later to Calais, to see for myself the ongoing reality people face when caught up in the refugee crisis. I’ve been devastated and inspired in equal measure; amazed by the incredible work of volunteers, and immensely saddened by the number of innocent lives that will never be the same again. Among the most vulnerable are unaccompanied children, who continue to suffer the traumatising effects of a violent past and hopeless present.
In April 2016, with the support of the British public, Help Refugees successfully advocated for an amendment to the 2016 UK Immigration Act. Named after Lord Alfred Dubs, who came to the UK as a child refugee, it mandated our government to speak to local authorities and see how many unaccompanied children we could resettle in the UK. But progress on implementing the amendment has been woefully slow, and tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors across Europe remain isolated and alone.
Over the past three weeks, I have been incredibly proud to be part of the recent #DubsNow campaign. Thousands of people have worked together to continue to fight for the rights of children left behind. Relying on the kindness of good people, every day, Help Refugees legal challenge to reopen the Dubs Amendment has been granted. This is our chance to bring a greater number of vulnerable children to safety, and continue the proud British tradition of helping those in need.
Last month, a 15-year-old refugee was killed in Calais. Perhaps he was unable to bear the thought of one more night sleeping rough. Of enduring the freezing temperatures without enough warm clothes. Of living in fear of beatings from the police and having his few belongings stolen. Of waiting day after day to hear about the state of his asylum case with no indication of any movement. Of being just simply too hungry, too cold and too tired. Of living with no hope. Perhaps it became worth the risk. Only one thing is for certain – we failed him.
We let a child die on our doorstep, a child that had a legal right to come to the UK. This tragedy speaks of an ongoing failure to protect the most vulnerable members of society – both here and abroad. Passing legislation that concerns the protection of individuals and then not acting effectively or holding ourselves to account erodes its credibility, and this is a problem for all of us. As climate change continues, we face a future involving the mass displacement of people. Global political relations continue to be fractious with discourse playing out publicly; sometimes it can feel like we are just one tweet away from global crisis. Essentially, it is clear that in the coming years our commitment to learning the lessons history has taught us in supporting those most in need will be repeatedly tested.
I understand why this plea may seem at odds with someone whose platform has come from participating in reality TV, but I hope to some extent we can all engage in debunking the myth that to help people you have be a certain ‘type’ of person – there is no type. Whoever you are, you have the ability to help others, to touch lives in a positive way. That power is yours alone – how you use it is up to you.
I have seen enough children’s lives devastated by conflict. Young people who have lost limbs forced to live in pain with ill-fitting prosthetics or no prosthetic at all. I have heard the stories of young, vulnerable individuals who have gone missing on their desperate journey to safety. Wondered what has become of them, and what pain they now have to endure at the hands of those who exploit them. I have seen enough to know that these innocent victims of war are real, and we must not let a divisive rhetoric become an accepted truth. We must challenge this ‘us and them’ divide, because the more we persist with dehumanising the people involved, the easier it becomes to look at the faces of lone children - freezing in tents, starving, in desperate need - and to turn our eyes away.
Five children have died at the Calais border in the last two years - they had the legal right to come to the UK – please honour their memory and don’t let there be one more.
Please support the grassroots groups working to help unaccompanied children across Europe by donating to Help Refugees today. The funds raised will be used to provide food, shelter, medical care, safe spaces, and much more to those in need.