Listening to the voices of children in exile
"Children in exile usually are extremely resilient and have a great capacity to move forward, despite the hardships they have experienced".
Gaëlle Berthelot, who works at the Asylum Seekers Reception Department of the Belgian Red Cross, shared during the debate following the screening of Idriss Gabel’s documentary ‘Je n’aime plus la mer’ at the European Parliament on 29 January 2019. Organised with the support of the Belgian Red Cross, the event was hosted by the European Parliament's Intergroup on children's rights. Event host Nathalie Griesbeck MEP (ALDE, France), the intergroup’s vice-chair, was joined by co-chairs Caterina Chinnici MEP (S&D, Italy) and Anna Maria Corazza Bildt MEP (EPP, Sweden) – all three contributing to the discussion to underline the importance of supporting and protecting children on the move towards and within the EU.
Now more than ever, EU policies must care for children in migration, as the percentage of migrant children arriving in the EU has grown substantially in the past decade. From 2012 to 2017, there has been a five-fold increase of children migrating alone, or without their families. In Belgian Red Cross-run reception centres, they currently represent 30% of all asylum seekers. The documentary screening aimed to raise awareness of the conditions faced by children in exile, and to emphasise the need to protect them in every phase of the asylum procedure.
Je n’aime plus la mer
Filmed in an asylum reception centre in Natoye (Belgium), ‘Je n'aime plus la mer’ explores the theme of children in exile through their own experiences and testimonies. Before shooting the documentary, Mr Gabel spent a year with the children living in the centre; accompanying them in their daily activities, getting to know them, and building trust. As the migration debate in Europe becomes increasingly polarised, by giving children a voice, the documentary highlights how EU policy choices focused on reducing number of arrivals impact the lives of individuals. It also provides a more concrete picture of some of the difficulties that migrant children face throughout migratory trails and once they reach Europe due to the absence of safe legal routes to protection. The uncertainty of the asylum procedure also has profound negative effects on children, as underlined by MEP Corazza Bildt. “The state of insecurity and uncertainty of not knowing whether they can stay in Europe affect children greatly”, she said. “Perhaps more urgently still than the physical hardship, it is the psychological trauma which must be addressed”, she added.
‘Je n'aime plus la mer’ was produced as one of the neighborhood initatives of the Belgian Red Cross’ ongoing ‘Children in Exile’ campaign. These local projects aim to facilitate the integration of reception centre residents by connecting them with people in the community. By fostering acceptance and understanding between migrants and their neighbours through awareness raising campaigns, as well as cultural and social events, these projects work to change people’s perspectives on migration.
Protecting children on the move
Children on the move are amongst the most vulnerable along the migratory trails, having left their homes to face numerous life-threatening challenges in order to reach safer shores. These dangers are aggravated by the persistent shortcomings in child protection in many EU Member States. The documentary showcases the suffering, needs, and expectations of migrant children through their own stories. “It is important to give children a voice, and to see the crossing through their eyes”, underlined MEP Chinnici. Indeed, hearing more about the lives and experiences of individual migrants would help guide the EU and Member States to find ways to better protect children in migration and to implement more child-friendly asylum procedures and reception services.
Investing in migrant children’s future
We must not ignore that “a child is first and foremost a child and has rights”, stressed MEP Griesbeck. “These include not only the rights to education, health, dignified living conditions and family life, but also the rights to be listened to, considered, and accompanied”, she added. At the same time, Ms Berthelot recalled that “children can show amazing resilience and an impressive ability to bounce back”. Giving migrant children the possibility to integrate and fulfil their needs is thus key to their personal development, as well as being beneficial for the whole family. Indeed, children often support the social inclusion of the entire family thanks to their adaptation and learning abilities.
MEP Corazza Bildt concluded that although migrant children arriving in Europe suffer from the trauma of their exile, there are real opportunities for the EU and Member States to prioritise children in their asylum procedures. It is critical that children are efficiently provided with adequate care, access to school, and all the activities that will foster their recovery and integration.
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