A group of unaccompanied Syrian teenagers who have sought safety in the UK have made an impassioned plea for Britons to accept them “with open arms, not with racism and hate” and help hundreds of other minors who are stuck in France.
Omar, a 16-year-old Syrian who arrived in the country about six months ago, urged people against accepting unaccompanied minors into the UK to have empathy.
“All you need to do is put yourself in our shoes,” he said. “If you put yourself in our shoes and think about what we went through and think about your children going through this, you might sympathise and understand what it is we really want.”
Speaking at an event organised by the Varkey Foundation and Safe Passage UK – which was set up to help the safe and legal entry of unaccompanied child refugees to the UK – 17-year-old Kabir made a plea for unaccompanied minors to be accepted into society.
“I am not here by choice; I am here because of war,” he said. “I hope that this country will welcome us with open arms and not with racism and hate. If there is one thing I want to happen in these governmental chambers is that you open a file called chance for Syrian refugees to be integrated – all the refugee children, not just the Syrians.”
The immigration minister, Robert Goodwill, last week said 318 minors had been brought to the UK, 60 of whom were girls. Of these, 200 – like the teenagers speaking at the event – were brought in under a family reunification programme mandated by the Dublin regulation in EU law, with the remainder transferred under the Dubs amendment.
Charities say about 2,000 unaccompanied minors were registered in Calais before the demolition of the camp there and they are campaigning for 1,000 to be brought over before Christmas, after the home secretary, Amber Rudd, said the UK would take half.
The Home Office came under attack last week after new, highly restrictive eligibility criteria for child refugees hoping to be transferred from France to Britain were revealed. The rules exclude 16- and 17-year-olds of all nationalities from consideration for transfer to Britain under the Dubs amendment of the Immigration Act.
“I am personally very strong-willed and I can make things happen, but there are a lot of children like me who find it very difficult finding information,” said 17-year-old Mohammed.
Kabir urged the government to accept other minors trapped in France. “Please help my friends who are stuck in France and cannot get over here: I am anxious about that,” he said.
“Your country has been friendly and they have been good, the information has not always been available but if you compare it with what my eyes have seen, I can’t complain,” he said. The experience was very different in France, he added. “I left a war, but I haven’t seen hatred like the hatred from the French. When we used to leave the camp at night, we used to get beaten for no reason.”