Why can’t child migrants speak for themselves?

FILE PHOTO: Women and children sit at the Moria camp for refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Elias Marcou/File Photo

The second day of the latest ‘Lost in Migration’ Conference hosted by the President’s Foundation for Social Wellbeing and Missing Children Europe, opened on the question, why can’t children migrating on their own speak for themselves?

Rania Ali, a Syrian refugee currently living in Austria, opened the discussion explaining that currently there are too many assumptions and narratives made about child migrants.

She explained to the audience that the European perspective is swamped in negativity about of child migrants, unaccompanied minors and migration in general. These assumptions cultivate myths about this age group and misrepresenting them. She added that it was largely male professional academics. Worst still, the established narratives and political viewpoints on migration were being perpetuated by politicians which create fear within the indigenous population.

Joining Ali were a panel of fellow young migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian Sub-continent and the Middle East. Each described their hazardous journeys to Europe and the challenges they faced integrating themselves into Europe.  Amongst their equally and distinctive experiences, was their work with young migrants and keenness for them to be heard.

‘When we let young people talk about their experiences, read their perspectives and opinions, they give a different view from what is actually happening. We need to talk about the crisis that refugees are going through, not the current narrative. What about the crisis for refuges in terms of lacking basic needs, a lack of integration, a safe place to be?’, Ali said.

There is no common European policy on child migration

In his address to the second panel discussion focused on the increasing risks and dangers for young migrants, Lazhar Jouili, the Vice-President of Defence for Children in Tunisia, poured scorn on the EU’s current responses to migration and the protection of child migrants.

He told the audience through an interpreter that the EU has no common policy on child migration, nor does it match up with the reality occurring on the ground.  For this reason, the EU needed to harmonise a policy which is proactive and bears the responsibility that the developed world has had in creating the crises in countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.  For now, he explains, the Arab Union has been paying the price for its strategic location and economic importance in the world in hosting these refugee communities.

‘I don’t think we solve problem by raising awareness of these children. They already know the dangers on the journey, but decide to take the risk.’, he said.

As with the first panel discussion Jouili was joined by an international panel of experts working in the various fields of protection and integration of child migrants, from experts on missing migrants like Sofia Mahjoub from Belgium and integration coordinators like Sara Granath from Sweden.

Concluding his address, Jouili proposed that one potential way to resolve children’s migration is for the developed world to take up its international responsibility.  He said that the Western world should deal with the deep ceded social, economic and political problems inside their home countries.  As for now, their involvement has been to resolve armed conflict, but this has only been ‘problem management’, he said.

Human rights are not a pick and choose, they are for everybody

In her address to bridge the two discussions, the President of Malta, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca abhorred that European nations could allow themselves to be led around by the nose about migration.

Adding to this, she criticized the fact that there were modern day concentration camps on European soil and the West could build weapons capable of surgically precise destruction and yet there is not the political will to find and pinpoint the smugglers and traffickers.

‘We need to do something, We need to stand more together.’, she said, adding, ‘Human rights are not a pick and choose, they are for everybody.’