Entire generation missing out on childhood in war-torn world

Government must ensure systems and supports exist for refugee children entering Ireland

A wounded Syrian boy  in a crowded makeshift hospital in eastern Aleppo. Photograph: Thaer Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images

A wounded Syrian boy in a crowded makeshift hospital in eastern Aleppo. Photograph: Thaer Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images

 

If the last few months in politics has indicated anything, it is that major world powers are become more isolationist and inward-looking in their political approaches.

Many politicians, and the people that elect them, continue to demand a move away from concerted responses to global crises.

What does this mean for those countries in crisis? What will happen to the millions of vulnerable men, women and children across the world who face so many untold dangers?

The world is becoming a more treacherous place. In the last five years, 15 conflicts have broken out. From Syria to Yemen and from South Sudan to Afghanistan, we are seeing people on the move on a scale that is almost unimaginable.

Over 65 million people have been forced to leave their homes in the world right now – just over the population of the UK.

Over half of them are children.

Powerlessness

Those who are in exile are often in that situation for 17, sometimes 20, years.

It is all too easy for us to shake our heads as we look on in dismay with an overwhelming sense of powerlessness.

We feel the pain of the crises we face closer to home – a challenged health system, growing homelessness, a battling economy.

It is understandable that we are tempted to turn away. We feel a loss of hope when it comes to so many of the crises the world faces.

This year will be a time in politics that will remain in our minds for very many years to come. Our conscience and our memories will be stamped with the sights and sounds of a changing world.

A world on the move in a way and on a scale unseen since the close of the second World War, where an entire generation is missing out on a childhood.

Children like Aylan Kurdi, who became a tangible symbol of the refugee crisis when his tiny three-year-old body washed up on the shores of a European beach. Or Omran, covered in dust and blood in an ambulance after being plucked from a bombed-out building in Aleppo.

Despite home-grown worries, their images brought our attention to a growing crisis. They remind us that behind the numbers there are people with names. Men, women, children. Families.

Children, especially girls, are most vulnerable in conflict settings. Women and children are 14 times more likely to die in a humanitarian crisis than a man.

Girls are even more likely to be caught in a vacuum of violence, exploitation and early marriage.

These girls are too often invisible, their voices lost.

More often than not, they have no government to protect them, no politicians to represent them.

Voice

We must stand up for them. We must give them a voice.

The Government agreed last month to take an additional 200 children from the disbanded refugee camp in Calais. According to the Department of Justice, Ireland has taken 616 refugees since 2015.

We need to think about more than just numbers. We need to think about individuals.

If the last few months in politics we learned the hard way that the world is not black and white, and it is not as simple as numbers, polls or statistics.

The current climate should make us want to fight harder and smarter, especially for girls everywhere

Of course we should look at taking our fair share of refugees coming into this country, specifically children. This is an ongoing crisis and we must share the responsibility between states at a regional and international level. A crisis of this scale cannot be ignored.

But we also have an obligation to a generation of children and girls: that they have the chance to do much more than survive, but thrive.

Plan International is asking for a commitment from the Government to ensure that mechanisms and supports exist for refugee children entering Ireland. Access should be given to services including healthcare, psychosocial support, education facilities and legal advice – with facilities specific to women and girls available.

Think for a moment of a girl who is lost, alone and afraid.

A girl who has seen more pain and violence than we could even begin to imagine.

It does not matter who she is or where she is from.

Women and girls are at the heart of the injustice and violence that is being wreaked by humanitarian crises around the world. Ireland has a unique opportunity to use its position of influence to stand up for them. We have demonstrated the power of compassion in the past.

Let us continue this proud legacy for the sake of women and girls everywhere and leave no girl behind.

Paul O’Brien is chief executive of the child rights organisation Plan International Ireland

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