Posted: 22 December 2016

The plight of child refugees

The humanitarian emergency of our times

Many of us will have seen the shocking pictures of children cowering from bombs in war zones. Whether in Syria, Afghanistan or elsewhere, the appalling violence and chaos inflicted on children’s lives and beamed into our living rooms is a constant reminder of the obligation we have to help protect the world’s most vulnerable young people.

Let’s not be under any illusions about what these children have gone through. We’re talking about watching your parents murdered in front of you. We mean being raped or otherwise sexually assaulted, not only once, but repeatedly.

We can only imagine the kind of devastating impact these experiences have on their young lives. All children deserve the chance to live a full life. But many of these young people are barely surviving, never mind flourishing.

Even when they reach these shores, for many their difficulties are far from over. They may have a roof over their head, but that won’t heal broken minds or tackle trauma.

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You can help child refugees

Find out more about our work with child refugees and what you can do to help

Put yourself in their shoes – you’re a child, you’re alone in a foreign country, with no money or possessions. You have no friends or relatives and don’t know where to turn for help. How would you feel? What would you do?

Last year over 3,000 children arrived in the UK and faced exactly that scenario. These are young people who have fled war and persecution, some having lost families, others having been sent away by their parents, alone, in a desperate bid to keep them alive.

When they finally arrive in the UK they are often still not safe. Some children disappear never to be seen again. Others suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders and many live with the stress of awaiting decisions on their immigration status, which can have huge consequences for the rest of their lives.

Our responsibility to help child refugees 

How we treat those who need our help is a key part of what defines us as human beings – that is why The Children’s Society stands up for child refugees and migrants in the UK and fights to make sure they are treated fairly and properly and given the love and respect they deserve.

We see our role as helping refugee children overcome the challenges they face to give them the chance of a fair start. We do this by providing one-to-one intensive therapy to help them recover from the horrors they have experienced and witnessed. We help them navigate their new life in the UK through accessing services and negotiating the legal minefield that can frequently stress and bewilder them.

We want to make sure that their voices are heard, the problems they face are understood, and that they receive the support they need from social workers, mental health and housing services. But we want to do more than simply secure them their legal rights. We want them to adapt positively to our country, to make friends and to succeed.

Your support can make a crucial difference

I’m extremely proud that, this Christmas, The Guardian and The Observer are partnering with The Children’s Society to raise awareness of the plight of child refugees, and to raise vital funds to support them.

Our refugee services work with hundreds of children and young people who have witnessed unimaginable atrocities and experienced terrible trauma. Yet it is a privilege to witness the incredible resilience they possess, and to see the huge positive strides they make when they have someone by their side to support them.

Sometimes it is the smallest actions that can make the biggest difference – a welcome smile, a kind word in their own language, a sense that someone cares or is listening. At other times they need a legal champion, a counsellor or a mentor. We know that our support can make a crucial difference for these vulnerable children, helping them rebuild their lives, form lasting relationships and integrate into our communities.

While our services are making a real difference for young refugees and migrants every day, we’re not currently able to support all those who need it.

The money raised by Guardian and Observer readers will be crucial in enabling us to reach more young people, giving them the support and warm welcome they need to make sure they get the best possible start to their new lives.

Please give generously to the Guardian and Observer Charity Appeal so that together we can make sure child refugees reaching the UK are not only safe from danger, but have the chance to flourish.

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By Matthew Reed - Leadership team
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