Theirworld President Justin van Fleet looks at a disastrous few days for refugee children - but says we must have hope and show solidarity.
Since the start of Covid-19, we’ve said the pandemic is pushing vulnerable children even further to the margins of society. The actions of leaders across the globe this week not only prove this point but are a rallying call for all who simply care about others.
I like to report good news. But this week has been one of heartbreak for refugee children. Last month UNHCR announced that 1% of humanity is displaced. That’s about 80 million people – 40% of them children – facing the most regrettable hardship anyone can imagine.
Let’s take a moment to reflect.
Violence, terror and war force families to leave everything behind and make a dangerous journey to an unknown land, seeking compassion and support. They seek hope and the chance to make a better future. In short, it takes a lot for someone to elect to become a refugee.
Yet this week, here’s what has happened:
- Pope Francis highlighted at the Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region conference that millions in Lebanon and Syria are at severe risk due to food insecurity and Covid-19. He said: “There are small children who are hungry and who do not have anything to eat.”
- At the same conference, donors fell incredibly short of the $10 billion needed in urgent humanitarian support. The pledges were woefully inadequate.
- Also at the conference ... Many of the countries that pledged in 2016 that every Syrian refugee would be given a place in school in neighbouring countries within a year either failed to even mention education in their speeches or refused to detail how much – if any - of their pledge would go to education. Read our news report.
- The House of Commons voted not to allow child refugees to be reunited with their families in the UK.
If you are a refugee child, this was a devastating week for your future.
But we cannot lose hope and cannot accept the indifferent leadership which has relegated millions of children to hunger, told more than two million children to wait years for an education and told even more children who are by themselves they cannot be reunited with their parents.
Solidarity with one another is the key to survive and then thrive on the other side of the global pandemic. Solidarity is not complicated: it requires compassion, empathy and respect for the dignity of other humans.
At Theirworld, we campaign every day to ensure every child has the best start in life, a safe place to learn and skills for the future. And we believe everyone can be part of this cause – from the companies in our Global Business Coalition for Education to the young people in our Global Youth Ambassadors network and our peer civil society organisations.
Critics say we should invest in children in our own communities. Yes, there are many problems in rich and poor countries across the globe.
The London Conference in 2016 spurred a wave of investment and action that helped drive progress in providing education for Syrian refugee children. This progress, however, has stalled since 2017. In this briefing we makes three recommendations for how donor host countries, UN agencies and civil society can change course.
But this is not a zero-sum game and we can do both. We can invest in the wellbeing of children in our own countries. And we can invest in the wellbeing of the most vulnerable children outside our countries.
Imagine a world where we invested in the potential of the next generation without discrimination.
We would believe again that any young refugees could be the next Albert Einstein, Gloria Estefan or frontline nurse - all refugees who contributed to society in their own way to make it a better place.
We would accept the economic, security and moral rationale of investing in human rights. We would be a society that once again recognises a rising tide lifts all boats.
At Theirworld, that’s the world we’re working to create. Now is not the time to be defeated. It’s time to be on the right side of history. Join us.