After the shocking video of sweet Omran Daqneesh frozen and covered in dust, shrapnel, and blood has circulated the internet, more and more people are calling for justice for the children of Syria. Other videos, such as the White Helmet Volunteer sobbing as he cradles a baby girl he rescued from under rubble, or the toddler crying out for her father as doctors wipe blood from her face are stirring the hearts of many, and many are reaching out in efforts to help these children. But is it enough? Why have so many children been affected? What are their lives like? By contrast, how have we treated children in refugee situations in the past?
According to the U.S. State Department, 60 percent of the Syrian refugees arriving in the United States over the past year were children. Although families have strived to stay together, many get separated in the chaos of people fleeing, or could only afford to send their children to America. However, according to resettlement agencies across the United States, it is their goal to help families stay together.
Life in Syria for these children is not the typical childhood that we all recall. NBC reports that these children play in the street among the shrapnel and debris, barely flinching at the sounds of bombs all too close to home. A British aid worker described the children playing in the rubble with shrapnel on their faces, not knowing what their future will hold.
Many, as is the case of those in the viral videos, are stuck in a war torn Syria, unable to flee because of lack of resources and trapped by converging military forces.
Those who do escape live much different lives. In an interview conducted by BBC, refugee children described their new life, highlighting having the opportunity to go to school and having a bright future, as all children do. They reminisced with jaded expressions about their life in Syria before the war, and wisely pleaded with those responsible on both sides to stop the fighting so they can go home and rebuild their houses.
Syrian refugees enter Europe and the United States homeless and seek the help of resettlement agencies to find shelter, necessary items for living, and communities to join. However, many are still in need, especially families. Diapers, formula, blankets, toys, pencils, notebooks, and other things are lacking in their lives, even with organizations like Save the Children acting to help them.
To make matters worse, because of the war and resettlement, many children are behind in their education. Enrolling in schools in both Europe and North America, it is now a game of catch-up for them, not only educationally, but socially too. Many will and are struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other anxieties.
In deciding how we should treat child refugees, not only is it a moral matter, but a legal matter as well. The looming question in all of this and in our politics lately is whether the United States should to continue allowing refugees into the U.S. However, the better question might be, do the attitudes or laws change when it comes to child refugees? Children have to go through the same legal refugee processes as adults, although in a different court, even unaccompanied. However, there are organizations like KIND, Kids In Need of Defense, that provides pro bono attorneys to defend these children. They claim that “unaccompanied children are five times more likely to gain U.S. protection if they have an attorney representing them in immigration proceedings,” and are willing to provide this representation, with a branch of the organization operating right here in Boston.
Generally, the consensus is that we, as humans, should be more lenient towards these children and families in letting them enter the country. The attitude of this side is to aide them in making a better life for themselves in escaping the violence. However, there is still the fear of Radical Islamic child bombers or those aligned with ISIS.
One might ask if there is a precedent for child refugees in other significant moments of a war torn world. With situations like Kosovo in the late 1990’s or the Holocaust, how did the world treat them? It would suffice to say that the world was much more open than to refugees, and that the recent growing numbers of terrorist attacks, the fear of the Arab Spring, and growing Islamophobia would contribute to our closing borders. However, that is not to say that it was all better, for there were still numerous cases of racism and paranoia then too.
So what is next for these children? It seems that Syria has more to fight through before it can rebuild, but one day, there will be peace in the region. These children have the unique, although not asked for, opportunity to rise from the ashes of their country and to help rebuild not only their nation, but the hearts of the world with their examples.