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The UK’s child refugees deserve our support

200 child refugees have been allowed into Britain and, judging by the reaction from politicians and the press, you’d think it was an influx of hundreds of thousands. Making up a whopping 0.00031% of the population, these children will be settled with family members or placed into care so that they can grow up in relative safety and peace.

The children were allowed to travel to the UK after many months of verification and discussions but this was not sufficient for a major tabloid newspaper, who published photographs of some of them, questioning whether they were truly under the age of 18. Even putting aside the highly dubious ethics of printing photographs of vulnerable people on the front page of a newspaper, the methods they used to ‘prove’ the newcomers were grown adults apparently included a smartphone app that guesses people’s ages. And we all know how accurate those are.

But they don’t look like children!

It is arguable that some of the people who came as part of the 200 look older than 18. But these are people who have come across an ocean in a fragile inflatable dinghy and then made their way across a substantial amount of mainland Europe on foot. They are alone, frightened, and have had to toughen up just to stay alive. We cannot imagine what they have been through. So if their skin looks tougher than your average teenager’s, or their expressions betray experiences they should never have had to face, this is not an accurate indicator of the number of years they have been alive.

And in any case, so what? If a 19 year old snuck through the system and found a way to get a safe bed for the first time in months, I am unable to feel outraged or upset by that. If she can sleep indoors in a comfortable room and have food to eat and be free of sexual exploitation, she is more than welcome in my country. I’m only here by accident of birth; why do I have more right to live here than anybody else?

But we have our own children in need!

Yes, we do. I didn’t know you cared. Did you care before you heard about refugee children? And what, exactly, are you doing about it?

There does not need to be a competition between British children and children from elsewhere. When people take action, collect donations, provide safe homes and volunteer with support services, everybody benefits. If you’ve suddenly decided that British homeless people deserve British people’s support, then go ahead and support them somehow. Until you do, you can’t become appalled that others are also receiving – and deserving of – the same support.

But we can’t afford it!

We are living in times of ruthless austerity measures but this does not mean we cannot afford to support people who need it. It means that the government has decided against supporting people who need it.

We have plenty of money to give to the military and to allow massive companies to have tax breaks. Billions of pounds a year are squandered while the poorest in society are made to feel like they are breaking the bank by hoping to eat this week. Food banks are in high demand and benefit sanctions rise unabated.

We can afford to support British people and those who come here seeking help from elsewhere. The lack of money is a strategic Tory position that allows for ideological cuts to be made, turning citizen against citizen in a struggle for the scraps. It is not an inherent inability to afford anything at all.

But why are they all boys? Where are the girls?

The children who have arrived for our support are not all boys. Out of the 200 unaccompanied minors, 60 were girls. Just like the media failed to share the photographs of the younger children who have come, they also omitted photographs of girls while they were whipping up a frenzy.

A sign in the Calais Jungle refugee camp saying I NEED GO TO UK.
Photo: malachybrowne/Creative Commons

But nobody wants them here!

Speak for yourself. There have been plenty of welcome parties and celebratory welcomes for new arrivals who need to be supported and encouraged to build a new life away from the fear and terror they have fled.

But why do they not go to countries nearer to where they came from?

The 10 countries that take in 50% of the world’s refugees account for 2.5% of the world’s economy. According to Al Jazeera, the countries that take in the most refugees are Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Turkey and Jordan. So, for the people who ask why Muslim countries can’t take in refugees, the truth is that they are taking in far more than any European country is.

Can they afford it? Certainly less than we can. Are we doing our fair share? Clearly not.

Photo: malachybrowne/Creative Commons


Philippa Willitts

Philippa Willitts is a British freelance writer who specialises in writing about disability, women's issues, social media and tech. She also enjoys covering politics and LGBT-related topics. She has written for the Guardian, the Independent, New Statesman, Channel 4 News, Access Magazine, xoJane and many more publications. She can be found on Twitter @PhilippaWrites.