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‘Balloon-Pop’ to support Calais kids

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-09-45-15LAST Sunday (Oct 16), a group of International Politics PhD students organised a novel event to express support for unaccompanied refugee children in Calais. The ‘Balloon Pop’ took place in the grounds of Aberystwyth Castle.

Braving the cold evening wind and rain, participants wrote messages of support on balloons.

The messages included ‘Refugees Welcome’, ‘All Kids Matter’, and ‘Children are Innocent’. With the sun setting over a stormy Cardigan Bay, the balloons were burst in a big group ‘pop’.

The burst balloons were then collected and sent to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, along with a letter calling for the United Kingdom to do more to help the children on the Calais camp. The event was attended by more than 30 ‘poppers’, including children, students and residents of Aberystwyth.

CHILD PROTECTION CONCERNS

Over 1,000 unaccompanied refugee children are currently living in the Calais refugee camp known as the Jungle. Evictions by the French authorities are scheduled to commence in the coming days, raising severe child protection concerns. Following a previous eviction earlier this year, an estimated 129 refugee children were reported to have gone missing. In this context, three PhD students of International Politics from Aberystwyth University decided it was time to, quite literally, make some noise.

Under the Dublin Agreement and Dubs Amendment, the United Kingdom has committed to welcoming unaccompanied refugee children. The former agreement provides reunification rights to unaccompanied children with family ties in the UK, while the latter allows for the resettlement of vulnerable unaccompanied children without family ties. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has reaffirmed her commitment to welcoming refugee children and a handful of children from Calais with family ties in the United Kingdom have started to arrive in the country. It remains unclear how many children will be relocated, however. Given that over one thousand unaccompanied refugee children are present in Calais, the Aberystwyth student group believe more action is needed to protect the lives and well-being of all unaccompanied refugee children in Calais, regardless of family ties.

One of the balloon pop organisers, Karijn van den Berg, told The Herald: “The sound of popping balloons, sadly, is only too reminiscent of the primary cause of displacement of many of these refugee children, who fled countries at war to the sound of gunfire and explosions. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which both France and the United Kingdom are parties, states that ‘a child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State’. Where is this special protection and assistance for the unaccompanied refugee children of Calais?”

UK GOVERNMENT STIRS

On Monday (Oct 17), 14 teenagers arrived in the UK from the jungle camp in Calais ahead of its looming demolition. The transfer of the vulnerable children, aged from 14 to 17, was confirmed by the Home Office. France’s Minister of the Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, has called on the UK to fulfil its moral duty to Calais’ unaccompanied children: “From the point of view of some in France, the Calais migrants’ misery is entirely down to the selfishness of the British government.

“London, they believe, is hiding behind the Le Touquet agreements governing controls on entry from continental Europe to the UK. They accuse the UK of using these agreements in an unscrupulous way, as a means of refusing to take in refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, including unaccompanied children with family connections in the UK. The first transfers of young people with close relatives in the UK begin this week, while France has agreed to take in 13,000 refugees. The British government now needs to intensify its efforts to identify and resettle child migrants.”

The founders of the ‘Balloon Pop’ have no illusions that an envelope of burst balloons will be sufficient to sway the policies of the United Kingdom. They hope, though, that their action showed the world that, across the country, people care; that Britain, despite appearances, has not lost its humanity.

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Dayne Stone

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