The Blog

'Nujeen Was One Of The Lucky Ones' - Help Us To Protect More Children On The Move


Nujeen Mustafa, a 17-year old Syrian refugee, made headlines last year when she made the journey from Syria to Germany in a wheelchair. As she tells the story of this journey, in her book, published last Thursday, and co-authored with journalist and bestselling author, Christina Lamb, it is hard not to see her experiences as illustrative of those of millions of other Syrian refugees.

Born with cerebral palsy, Nujeen had barely ever left her family apartment in Aleppo when she was forced to flee to Northern Syria. But after a year in her birthplace of Manbij, her family quickly had to flee again to escape the threat of Islamic State fighters. They travelled first to Turkey and finally to Europe.

Leaving her parents behind in Turkey, as they were too old to make the journey, Nujeen travelled to Europe with her older sister, Nasrine, pushing her in her wheelchair. They crossed borders, from Greece, to fYR Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and finally into Germany.

Nujeen in Croatia in 2015. Photograph: Zeljko Lukunic/PIXSELL/Pixsell

Nujeen, there is no doubt, was one of the lucky ones. She made it to Germany and applied for asylum to live with her brother, 26 years her senior and a film director, who had lived there since before she was born. Nujeen was able to be reunited with her family, unlike many refugee children today who are still trying to achieve this aim.

The death of Raheemullah Oryakhel, 14, killed in Calais, shows another side to the same story. Raheemullah, like Nujeen, had made the journey to Europe, with the aim of being reunited with his brother in England. He had a safe home and bed waiting for him, but wasn't afforded his legal right to be reunited with his family. It's heart-breaking that a lack of action for children in the awful camp in Calais pushed him to try to complete his journey in the back of a lorry.

© Geai/UnicefFrance

Raheemullah's story is, however, sadly not unusual. Children in Calais, who have the legal right to be in the UK, are trying over 2,000 times a week to reach the UK by jumping onto trains or lorries. This has to stop.

The UK Government has to do something to ensure that they aren't forced to take measures into their own hands, choosing between train tracks or traffickers in a desperate attempt to reach their loved ones. We have to do something to ensure that their stories don't have the same endings as Raheemullah's. In the UK there is much we can do to ensure that at least the 400 refugee children in Calais, who have been identified as having a legal right to be in the UK, are protected and afforded the rights they deserve.

This means making sure they can be safely reunited with their families, and are not forced to make increasingly risky journeys to do so. With the camp facing demolition in the coming weeks, it is vital that the UK works with the French authorities to get children out of the camp before the bulldozers arrive, and into appropriate accommodation where they have access to care and legal support so they can reach their families safely.

© Geai/UnicefFrance

Last week, as world leaders met in New York to discuss the global refugee crisis, Unicef was calling on the international community to protect child refugees and migrants from exploitation and violence, to end the detention of children seeking refugee status, to keep families together, to promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization and to make sure that refugee and migrant children keep learning and have access to health and other quality services.

Although we are certainly a way off realising all of these goals, we hope that this represents a first step in addressing the unprecedented level of human movement the world is facing.

As Nujeen says "This is not about politics, this is about us, people, spirits, souls so please consider that you have the power to change things for the better, to help children like me."

Please sign our petition to urge the UK Government to speed up the process to reunite refugee children with their families here

Before You Go