Foreword to IRR report: ‘They are children too’

There is no such thing as your children and my children. Children are children are children. They are the measure of our possibilities; how we treat them is the measure of our humanity. The moment we categorise them as foreign is the moment we lose both.

For asylum seekers, living on the edge of life, children are the most precious belonging. Itis to save their children’s lives by safeguarding their own that they flee the mayhem of their countries and seek asylum in Europe. But once asylum is refused, often on the most arbitrary grounds, and the logistics of deportation take over, the children are subjected to the same summary treatment as their parents. In fact, worse, because they are sometimes the clue to the whereabouts of their parents who, in a last desperate attempt to save the family from deportation, go into hiding.

Children are plucked out of their schools, subjected to sudden and violent dawn raids on their ‘homes’, and detained in immigration removal centres for inordinate lengths of time.

Manuel Bravo, an Angolan asylum seeker who fled to Britain with his 13-year-old son after his parents were killed and sister raped, hanged himself in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre where he and his son were being detained before being deported, so that the boy could remain in Britain as an ‘unaccompanied minor’.

But even ‘unaccompanied minors’ come of deportation age by 18 and are sent back to their countries of origin. More to the point, however, is that they are so vulnerable and unprotected that they often fall prey to child trafficking and prostitution. If the criterion of a Christian society is Christ’s injunction – ‘suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven’ – the nations of Europe can only be judged apostate. If the criterion of a civilised country is the treatment of children who come to it for refuge, the nations of Europe can only be judged barbaric. And yet, Europe mouths ‘values’, ‘Enlightenment’, ‘tolerance’.

As Sartre said in another context, the mouths open, but the words die on the tongue. Only in the heroic efforts of religious and secular groups and individuals to defy the state and take ‘illegal’ children into their protection, in any way they can, is there any evidence that Europe once had a soul.