Learning the lessons of the Kindertransport

November 24, 2016 23:22

The plight of unaccompanied children during the current refugee crisis resonates in two important ways. First, the focus on children strikes an emotional chord and second, we inevitably recall the Kindertransport, an important chapter in both Jewish and British refugee history.

It is impossible to know how many unaccompanied children have arrived in Europe this year from war-torn countries such as Syria. Some estimates put it at 7,000, but refugee workers say this is nowhere near the actual number.

These young people are particularly vulnerable and will become increasingly so as winter approaches. They will also be at the mercy of organised gangs forcing some of them into prostitution and slave labour, as a senior police officer has recently warned.

Here in Britain between 1,500 and 2,000 unaccompanied children and young people arrive each year seeking asylum. This year the numbers are set to increase.

After arrival they become the responsibility of local authority social services. While their basic needs - housing, education and subsistence - are catered for, the statutory services are unable to provide the much needed social and emotional support.

As a result, these young people frequently spend much of their adolescence suffering acute loneliness and isolation. Their lives have been severely fractured and they lack the stability and support that should be the preserve of all young people.

Also hanging over their heads is the threat of being removed from the UK when they reach 18. Such a predicament is not conducive to integrating into British life.

Many of the unaccompanied children and young people find themselves in Kent and the County Council has warned that it will not be able to accept any more unaccompanied children under the government's plans to resettle 20,000 refugees from Syria.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, described the intake of Syrian refugee children as the "modern equivalent of the Kindertransport".

Similar sentiments were expressed by the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, who said that Britain needed "a conspicuous humanitarian gesture, like Kindertransport" in response to this crisis.

Is it appropriate to be using language of the Kindertransport in relation to the refugee crisis today? Comparisons are not always helpful, as no two experiences are exactly the same and inappropriate analogies can result in groups vying for victimhood.

More appropriate is to encourage appreciation of the way experiences resonate with each other, hopefully increasing our empathy and ultimately our desire to help others.

The scale of the crisis presents us with a real opportunity to rethink the way we deal with unaccompanied children and young people.

As a small contribution, JCore has run a befriending scheme, "Jump", for eight years. We provide children and young people with support from a trained adult volunteer, providing regular, stable and structured companionship plus help in navigating their way through life in the UK.

Giving today's young refugees a chance to rebuild their lives could be one of the best ways to honour the legacy of the Kindertransport.

November 24, 2016 23:22

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