Justin Forsyth

Britain can do more for child refugees who have already suffered so much

Thursday 7 January 2016 by Justin Forsyth

Child Refugee Crisis, Save the Children

Two children play on the railway lines in Presevo, waiting for another train to take them on the next step in their journey.

A few weeks before Christmas in 1938, a party of 196 German children arrived at the UK port of Harwich. They had left Nazi-controlled Berlin by train the day before, after their Jewish orphanage had been burned to the ground. They were the first of nearly 10,000 children who travelled to Britain to escape persecution, facilitated by volunteers and far-sighted officials, in what became known as the Kindertransport.

The Kindertransport movement is something Britain can be incredibly proud of, a beacon of light in an otherwise dark time. I was reminded of it when I stood on a beach in Lesvos recently, helping families fleeing conflict to come ashore on flimsy rubber boats. Many held out their babies and small children first, calling out for them to be carried to safety – that innate desire of parents to save their children at all costs.

Child Refugee Crisis, Save the Children

A young boy looks across the street in the unofficial camp at Kara Tepe on the Greek island of Lesvos.

It was that same determination to survive that led them to set out on an uncertain journey in the first place. Unfortunately, the gamble does not always pay off – as I write this, news has come in of another tragic drowning off the coast of Turkey, with up to 21 bodies brought ashore in Lesvos including children.

As we face the biggest refugee crisis globally since WWII, it’s time to think again about how we can reach out a helping hand to those that need it most. After I met children in Sicily early last summer who had made the journey to Europe completely alone, walking across the desert and facing hunger, torture and abuse on route, Save the Children called on the UK government to offer to take in up to 3,000 of these lone children. That call was backed yesterday by a cross-party group of MPs on the International Development Committee, who recognised the extraordinary vulnerability of unaccompanied refugee children.

Child Refugee Crisis, Save the Children

A young boy who is still wearing the life jacket that he was wearing when he crossed the sea walks around the city of Lesvos.

The 3,000 number was calculated as Britain’s fair share of the estimated 26,000 children who arrived in Europe in 2015 without any family. They come from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and elsewhere, some of them teenagers, some as young as eight. Like those children arriving in Harwich in the 1930s, many of them are escaping conflict. They seek safety and security, but unfortunately, with reception services in Greece and Italy totally overwhelmed, they do not always find it.

Last year, Italy said that 4,000 of the lone children they had registered had vanished. Some can be found working as prostitutes around train stations, others are moved on by people traffickers. They come to Save the Children’s centres in Rome and Milan to get a decent meal and a shower, to have the chance to call back home and be children again for a while. In Greece, we try to identify and help child refugees who are on their own, but with up to 10,000 people arriving every day at the height of the crisis, the situation is chaotic.

Child Refugee Crisis, Save the Children

A boy who just arrived on an inflatable boat from the Turkish coast to the Greek island of Lesvos carries his lifebelt across the beach.

As a result, children on their own are extremely vulnerable. Our staff have heard reports of a ten-year-old boy being raped while he slept in a park, and of children being tortured by people traffickers on the migration route to extort more money. We believe we can do more for children who have already suffered so much.

After hearing our call, organisations and individual families across the UK have come forward and offered to help. One charity, Homes for Good, has already registered 10,000 potential carers and adoptive parents who are ready and willing to give a refugee child a chance at building a better life. We believe that 3,000 is a manageable number for the UK – it’s less than a third of those we took in during the Kindertransport and amounts to just five children per parliamentary constituency.

The UK has led the way in aid to the Syria region, and the government recently took the very welcome step of offering to take in 20,000 refugees living in camps in the Middle East. But we know that Britain can also reach out a hand to some of those who have already made the dangerous journey to Europe, those at-risk children who are on their own this winter. Like those dark days in 1938, children are leaving their homes today without their families because they fear for their lives. Britain can live up to the best of our history by offering them a better future.

Refugee Crisis: We must not turn our backs on refugees

Wednesday 2 December 2015 by Justin Forsyth

In the aftermath of Paris, we must not turn on refugees says our CEO Justin Forysth. We must put the people, and in particular the children of Syria, centre stage.

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Sustainable Development Goals: Not Just a Piece of Paper

Tuesday 29 September 2015 by Justin Forsyth

The Sustainable Development Goals agreed in New York by world leaders are a pivotal moment in history.

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Refugee crisis: A test of our humanity

Friday 4 September 2015 by Justin Forsyth

Like me, I’m sure you’ve been shocked by the media coverage over the last few days – especially the heart-breaking picture of the little Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, drowned off the coast of Turkey. His tragic death has captured the hearts of millions of people across the world.

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Calais crisis: children’s stories speak to a wider truth

Tuesday 4 August 2015 by Justin Forsyth

We have a proud history of offering sanctuary to refugees, whether they were running from Nazi persecution, the Vietnamese war or the conflict in the Balkans. In a modern mirror to that proud tradition, Save the Children believes the UK government could take in at least 1,500 of the most vulnerable unaccompanied children currently adrift in Italy and Greece, a calculation that considers the UK’s GDP, population, existing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers and unemployment rates.

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Let’s make 2015 the year of action/2015

Monday 6 July 2015 by Justin Forsyth

The first rule of show business is never work with children or animals. The first rule of global G8 negotiations should be avoid naked flames.

It was 2005 and the Make Poverty History campaign was everywhere. Britain was the host of that year’s Gleneagles G8 summit of world leaders and Tony Blair had put Africa at the top of his agenda.

Now the Prime Minister had Bono, Bob Geldof, Richard Curtis and an unprecedented coalition of charities breathing down his neck. 20 years after Live Aid, Live 8 was about to host concerts in nine cities around the world, with a potential audience of 3 billion people.

The PM and Chancellor Gordon Brown both had high hopes for what could be achieved, but on this particular day Michael Jay, Blair’s sherpa – or, in layman’s terms, chief negotiator – had been trapped for hours with his international counterparts, and felt he was getting nowhere.

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Mediterranean crisis: harrowing stories show need to do more for children

Thursday 18 June 2015 by Justin Forsyth

I’m in Sicily where I’ve been hearing the harrowing stories of children and families who’ve survived the perilous trip from Libya across the Mediterranean Sea.

Every day, thousands are fleeing persecution in their homeland, in search of a better life in Europe.

A series of tragedies earlier this year highlighted the huge risks they’re taking, and put the spotlight on the EU’s heartless decision to stop search and rescue operations.

But even though search and rescue operations have resumed, I’ve been discovering that the ordeal doesn’t end when migrants reach dry land.

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Five Save the Children staff killed in Afghanistan

Tuesday 14 April 2015 by Justin Forsyth

Last Friday, news reached us of the death of five of our colleagues in Afghanistan. The five – Mansoor Ahmad Rahmanzai, 25, Rafiullah Salihzai, 27, Naqibullah Afkar, 29, Mohammad Haroon, 27 and Mohammad Naeem, 24 – had been abducted by an armed group five weeks ago in southern Uruzgan province. Despite desperate efforts to negotiate their release, they we’re murdered by their captors.

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A wake-up call: lessons from Ebola for the world’s health systems

Tuesday 3 March 2015 by Justin Forsyth

We all know the dreadful toll that Ebola has taken in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. It is not over. A conference today in Brussels is trying to maintain international support for the job of reaching zero cases and helping these countries to recover.

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The human cost of Ebola (part 2)

Wednesday 4 February 2015 by Justin Forsyth

Since the crisis began 221 health workers in Sierra Leone have lost their lives of a total of 1536 in a country with a huge shortage before Ebola struck. At the children’s hospital in Freetown you realise the impact of every health workers’ death. They lost one of their most impressive doctors last year. They now have only have three for a 200-bed hospital. This means they have to work 24 hours a day.

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