Queen Rania: Millions of Refugee Children Around the World Deserve Better
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Imagine you are six years old, four feet tall and too young to truly know what’s going on. Your childhood soundtrack has been the drumbeat of distant bomb blasts. One day your mother tells you you’re going away, somewhere safe.
You travel for days, exhausted, bewildered. You get on a boat that is packed with people, shouting and desperate. It’s dark and you’re terrified. You are in the middle of a savage sea, you see people struggling and falling into the water. Then you reach a shore and are taken to a camp. There are queues, crowds, chaos. Your home is a 4x3 makeshift room. Your clothes are dirty. At night you can hear your mother crying.
This is childhood according to hundreds of thousands of kids in refugee camps across the Middle East and Europe. Not soccer games and school trips but war and weariness. A couple of weeks ago I was in Kara Tepe camp on the Greek Island of Lesbos. There I met children who had seen far, far too much, and it shows – adult eyes in young faces.
What struck me most of all was the sheer strength of the mothers I met. “I just want my girls to learn, to finish their education”, Najwa told me. Her daughters and niece had been studying civil engineering, maths, medicine – she was determined to see them build bridges, pioneer theories, heal the sick.
“I need to know that my children are safe”, said Yasmine, only 22 herself and with two small children to raise in the camp. “We just want our souls to rest”, Siham told me: “I want peace for my daughter.”
Then there was Wafa, desperate to breastfeed her one-month-old baby Baker – but the stress is playing havoc with her body. She keeps trying, to keep him strong.
In Kara Tepe one thing was clear. That superhuman mother’s instinct to get the best for your children will not be crushed: not by the brutality of war, the uncertainty of a refugee camp, the misery of waiting for a new home. In China they call the moms who push their children to succeed academically ‘tiger mothers’. The women I met in the camp were more like lion mothers. Determined to build a home. Determined to keep their children safe. Determined to get them a decent education.
And it’s that spirit I pass on as my baton in this Global Moms’ Relay: the spirit to want the best for our children, all our children. What I wish for every child, everywhere, is quite simple: that they are safe enough to get a fair chance at life.
This is a wish not just for the children themselves but for all of us. In those camps are children who could be the future Marie Curies, Mark Zuckerbergs and Malalas. There are children whose talent – if only given the chance – could benefit the world.
We are a tragically long way from realising that potential right now. Across camps in the Middle East and Europe there are children whose education is over before it has begun, who are constantly waiting for a permanent home.
In some ways they are the lucky ones – if they are with their families. Because there are also terrible numbers of children who are alone, cold and cut adrift in strange lands. Thousands have gone missing while trying to cross borders inside Europe. Thousands are vulnerable to predators and traffickers. Thousands have witnessed brutality with no parent to comfort them.
There is a moral imperative for the world to do more. That does not just mean the world on the doorstep of the crisis, but all those nations with the capability to act. Host countries like Jordan are working tirelessly to help those devastated by the conflict. But we urgently need more collective action.
What touched me most of all in the Kara Tepe camp was the resilience of those children. While the world they know has dissolved around them, they continue to make friends, invent fun out of nothing, and find ways to laugh in the most desperate circumstances. Children are great teachers of hope – and my hope for every child is that they are safe to play, free to learn, able to make the most of their innate talents. Above all, I wish that every child everywhere gets a real childhood. Nothing matters more.
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