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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Our duty to look after refugee children serparated from their families

This opinion piece is about 8 years old

​Gary Christie of the Scottish Refugee Council argues that more must be done to help children who arrive in the UK alone and traumatised.

Recently, Hannah, a guardian with the Scottish Guardianship Service, visited 15 year old *Aaron, a young Eritrean boy, at his new home in a children’s unit.

Aaron arrived in the UK and was initially wrongly processed by immigration authorities as an adult, sending him to Glasgow to live in shared adult accommodation.

Arriving alone in the UK was confusing and traumatising for Aaron, and unfortunately this is an experience felt by many children as they flee horrific situations, make desperate and dangerous journeys and are faced with an unknown of life somewhere new.

At the Scottish Guardianship Service we see the disorientation and stress faced by many teenage girls and boys who have arrived alone in Scotland, some of whom have been victims of abuse and exploitation at the hands of people traffickers.

Gary Christie
Gary Christie

The Scottish Guardianship Service, a partnership between Scottish Refugee Council and Aberlour Child Care Trust, is on the side and by the side of young people like Aaron helping them to make sense of the bewildering asylum process and to get the help they need when they need it.

We have seen a rise in numbers being supported by guardians in Scotland and an increase in lone child refugees arriving in the UK.

However, numbers arriving in the UK are below countries such as Greece, Italy, Sweden and Germany, with children separated from their families arriving in mainland Europe from the Syrian conflict as well as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Vietnam.

Eurostat data shows that the number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the EU has grown steadily since 2010, reaching 24,075 children in 2014 – nearly double the number in 2013 and accounting for 4% of total applications for international protection.

We have a duty to look after these children. Facing pressure by Save the Children and civil society for the UK to relocate 3,000 children who have reached the shores of Europe, the UK government announced last week that they would ask the UN refugee agency to create a new programme for the resettlement of vulnerable children from conflict areas and create a new fund of up to £10 million, part of which will seek to help refugee children in Europe.

These are welcome steps, but they simply don’t go far enough to help those young people already in stranded in squalid situations like the Jungle in Dunkirk and Calais.

The UK government must play a role in sharing responsibility for the care and protection of these children separated and alone from their families. States like Greece and Italy cannot bear the compassion of a continent.

*Name changed to protect identity.

Gary Christie is head of policy and communications at the Scottish Refugee Council.