In 2019, 3,651 asylum applications were made in the UK by unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Between January 2018 and December 2020, 18,292 unaccompanied child migrants went missing in Europe – equivalent to nearly 17 children a day. How can children and young people in the UK learn about and understand these experiences, which may be so different to their own? What actions can both primary and secondary school students take to make Oxford a more welcoming place for child refugees?
To help us think about these questions, we sought the advice of some of our young supporters. We spoke to Isa who, at eight years old, is one of our youngest fundraisers. Isa raised over £150 for Asylum Welcome through her delicious bake sale and is planning more fundraising events in the future. We also asked our two Student Ambassadors, Amia and Ellie, to contribute their ideas; these committed high-school students ran the distance from London to Paris to fundraise for Asylum Welcome. Finally, we spoke to representatives of Help the World Oxford (HTWO), a passionate, politically-minded and student-run campaigning group operating in the county.
1. What do you think schools can do to support and raise awareness about refugees in Oxfordshire?
Isa: It is good to talk about it at school and raise awareness.
Ellie: Schools can organise fundraising events including sponsored runs or talent shows with paid tickets. They can also use homeroom time or school assemblies, or volunteering programmes such as DofE, to share information with the student body and inform students about what they can do to help refugees.
Amia: Schools should encourage awareness of the refugee crisis with relevance to the UK and indeed Oxfordshire. Many students perceive the refugee crisis only as a global issue, so bringing the local issues to them, through school assemblies or by increasing the availability of volunteering opportunities for students, would go a long way.
HTWO: Secondary schools should include refugee and asylum seeker education in classes such as PSHE or invite groups in to talk directly to students in high schools.
2. Have you ever learned about refugees at school or college? Has your school put on any events to support refugees?
Isa: We’ve had discussions at school about refugees, but I want to persuade my school to raise more money.
Ellie: Our school has joined in with Asylum Welcome’s computer donation project, gathering unused computers and sending them to families in need of online access during online learning. Additionally, we have had talks on the crisis in Afghanistan from one of our teachers.
Amia: We held a Mock UN debate on the refugee crisis, and of course the issues are talked about by students, but the school has never spoken about it explicitly.
HTWO: Personally, I haven’t come across any direct support from any schools I’ve attended other than school Amnesty International. It’s a real shame seeing minimal conversation when schools have major influence. I believe that our younger generations cannot afford to have minimal to no knowledge on refugees in our society today.
3. Where do you get your information about the current situation concerning refugees?
Isa: I’ve heard about refugees from my parents and from watching programmes on TV and YouTube.
Ellie: We receive the Asylum Welcome newsletters and read the ‘Latest News’ section of the website to find updates both on the current situation in Afghanistan, and the legislation and legal situation concerning refugees in England. I also try to keep updated by reading reliable news sources and watching the news on programmes like the BBC. I believe these are the sources of information young people should be referencing and learning from, rather than solely relying on platforms like instagram.
Amia: Young people tend to be very active on social media and this is probably the best way to reach them.
HTWO: I get my information from places like Instagram. These are better than mainstream news outlets in my opinion because people with first-hand experience of these events can share to these platforms. However, social media is just as dangerous for misinformation as well. In order to challenge misinformation, we need to learn about these topics at school.
4. What do others at your school think about what you’re doing to supporting refugees?
Isa: My friends thought it was a great idea and might do the same thing in the future. I might do a sponsored run next year with my Mummy and try and raise some more money.
Amia: Others at my school are motivated to do more towards the refugee crisis, including food or clothing drives, being quite passionate about it themselves.
HTWO: My peers admire what I do to support refugees, but I believe there’s a major issue around performative activism and I’m worried that tragedy in the Middle East has now become normalised. The best place to encourage teenagers to take action is at school.
5. Have you read or watched anything that has helped you to learn about refugees?
Ellie: Recently, I watched an incredibly moving and powerful documentary called ISIS in Afghanistan. It helped me begin to understand the degree of violence and fear that many refugees coming to England were forced to endure. Born in Syria, another documentary from the point of view of a group of Syrian children escaping tyranny, forced me to compare my experiences with theirs’ (being of a similar age) and confront the privilege I have growing up in a safe and protected environment.
HTWO: A book I’m reading at the minute is the story of a Syrian man’s journey to the UK called The Beekeeper of Aleppo. It covers major and minor issues around travelling and loss and trauma and the difficulties of getting help as a refugee in countries like England.
6. What advice would you give to a young person who would like to support refugees but has no idea where to start?
Ellie: I would say that every little bit counts! Starting a cake sale at school and donating directly to charities is a really effective way to make a huge amount of change for refugees. Set yourself a goal, and then get your friends and family involved – it can be a really fun thing to do together!
Amia: Look for volunteering opportunities first. In the absence of that, fundraising goes a long way. Update yourself on current events both local and nationally. Think where there are gaps that you could fill in: How could I bring this to more people? How could my school help? Are there any events I have done in the past that could be brought to this issue similarly?
HTWO: Activist and pressure groups, including at HTWO, are never not looking for volunteers or help from the public. Within schools and colleges, many launch Amnesty International groups where different actions can be taken. In terms of refugees and asylum seekers, whether it be financial support or hands-on work, our local Oxford groups need help.
7. What other things do you think young people can do to support refugees in Oxfordshire?
Isa: It’s easy to do a yard sale for fundraising. If a refugee came to my school, I would give them one of my cuddly toys to make them feel welcome and loved. I would play with them at break time and maybe invite them for a play date.
Ellie: Young people can do so much! They can share petitions, start fundraising campaigns both individually and with friends, and most importantly start conversations within their communities and raise awareness of the current refugee crisis. A very effective way to do this is through social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, where messages and posts from charities like asylum welcome can be shared easily.
Amia: I think that there should be in-person events or inter-school partnerships to bring everyone together: students from different backgrounds meeting each other. Young people can feel a sense of community and connection through public actions on social media, as happened during the BLM protests .
HTWO: The progressive and open minds of young people are desperately needed! As teenagers, we need to understand that we do have the tools and resources to make a difference. Young people are pushing for change!