Nothing pulls the heartstrings as much as seeing a young child in danger. We see powerful images of children being put on boats and struggling on the long journey from Africa and the Middle East to northern Europe. So what is the UK doing about this tragedy of our age?
Young children need an adult to look after them and guide them. Where the child is with a parent or parents we expect the parents to take care of them as best they can, and to make judgements about the risks of travel. We all rightly blame the people traffickers, as they organise unsafe boats or car rides across the desert, and seek to profit out of the misery. The UK along with other western countries is seeking to stop any illegal and unsafe trade and prosecute the offenders. We need the help of travelling adults to identify the unsafe and illegal traffickers and intercept the trade before it kills more people. We need to remember that most unaccompanied children who undertake such a journey have usually been advised to do it by an adult in the first place, and have been paid for by an adult who did so wanting to act in the best interests of the child. All these unsafe travel modes are organised by people who profit from it and should have a duty of care towards their passengers. They clearly often do not meet health and safety standards set out by the EU and many national governments. Shouldn’t all governments along the routes set standards of safety and seek to enforce these standards?
The UK’s policy towards helping young refugees and migrants is based on three central propositions. The first is ask them to apply for asylum or entry into the UK from somewhere near their original home to avoid the dangers of the long and irregular journey using illegal carriers. The UK is providing substantial aid to assist the refugee settlements in the Middle East, and will consider applications to come to the UK from there. The second is to try to bring families together, not to split them up. It is usually better for a child to be looked after by his or her own parents, or where they are dead by grandparents or other close relatives. If an unaccompanied child in a camp has the closest relative willing to take responsibility for him or her living in the UK the UK usually wishes to assist by giving the child legal entry. Where a child is an orphan with no close family willing to look after him or her, the UK gives such a person priority in assessing asylum and settlement needs from the refugee camps.
There may well be fewer children with no adult willing to help than at first sight. Most families do love their children and wish to help bring them up. As every child may have grandparents as well as parents and may have aunts and uncles the UK wish to reconnect children to adults in their own family can be successful. UK personnel are helping in the camps to trace missing relatives who may themselves be in places of safety. Where the family has suffered a disaster from war and the parents and grandparents are all dead or unable to take responsibility, the UK is willing to help.
The government’s website invites people to assist in various ways. Those wishing to help can offer clothes, toys and books to charities helping provide. You can volunteer to offer your time to assist refugees on arrival in the UK. You can provide a room or an empty property if you own such space. You can provide a foster home for a child. The government sets out the general approach. Seeing it through to a happy conclusion for each refugee who comes requires a response from the wider community to offer accommodation, jobs, school places and the rest that refugees will need.