“They were so brave.”
“It must have been awful sending them away knowing you might not see them again.“
“It would have been painful, but you would have done it; it was the best way of keeping them safe.“
80 years ago Operation Pied Piper saw children voluntarily sent by their parents to live with strangers. Over 3,000,000 people, mostly children were moved from the cities where they lived to the countryside towns which were thought to be safe from the bombing campaigns which were sure to begin with the outbreak of the second world war.
The evacuation of Britain’s cities at the start of World War Two was the biggest and most concentrated mass movement of people in Britain’s history. It seems probably some people living in the places where the evacuees were taken to felt ‘swamped,’ worried for their way of life and about the impact on the schools and services they used with such an influx of people.
The children, labelled like luggage, were taken from everything they knew to places so alien they may as well have been in another country. Life in different regions was markedly different across 1930s Britain, with accents so pronounced they could be difficult for outsiders to understand and diets full of food that was unfamiliar and a way of life that was far removed from anything they had experienced.
When children did arrive in their new destination they were lined up and waited to be chosen by someone to take them home.
The thought of sending your children away to an alien land, to strangers you know nothing about sounds traumatic doesn’t it?
Then there is the thought of the ongoing suffering the parents must have endured with, sometimes, years of contact only through letter, no real control of how they are raised, no idea how they are changing physically and emotionally as they were not there to see it.
70 years on we hear stories of evacuees and their parents and it’s impossible not to feel empathy for every family split up by a war they had no control over.
…… it’s impossible not to feel empathy for every family split up by a war they had no control over.
That sentence I just wrote isn’t true is it?
Because where as I hear the sentences from the top of the page when people discuss the World War 2 evacuees I hear very different comments about those who try to get their children out of war zones around the world into safety.
“They should stay where they are and fight.”
“Any parent who would send their child somewhere they cannot protect them doesn’t deserve children.”
“Freeloaders coming here to scrounge.”
The pain of giving your child away, of sending them away from everything they know, including your love and protection cannot be imagined.
It’s a decision someone should never have to make.
Unaccompanied refugee children will have seen horrors that cannot be imagined: they have seen their homes destroyed, loved ones killed, been tortured or trafficked. They have taken long, terrifying journeys to reach safety and they will probably never see those who love them again.
Unicef say worldwide there are nearly 31 million children who have been forcibly displaced. Children under the age of 18 made up about half of the global refugee population in 2018, including many that were unaccompanied or separated from their parents – and, as such, at risk from abuse and exploitation.
But it often seems that people view these children with hatred and greet any attempts by others to help them with outright revulsion. Indeed I expect to receive some nasty messages once this article is published because every time I have commented in support of refugees abuse has followed.
The Dubs Amendment, passed in May 2016 required the government to act “as soon as possible” to relocate and support unaccompanied refugee children in Europe. Britain promised to take 3,000 refugee children. So far it’s taken 220
Currently, unaccompanied minors in Europe who have relatives in the UK can apply to join them.
It is a lengthy process, with children often waiting months or even years to be moved to Britain after submitting their applications, There are currently an estimated 30 children in Northern France and 25 children in Greece known to have been approved for protection under, the Dubs Scheme who have been waiting more than 2 months to be transferred.
Why does the thought of those children alone and displaced not fill people with horror or sympathy?
The current system of transferring asylum-seeking children in the EU to join family members in Britain is set to come to an end in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
I don’t see any outrage about this.
Paddington Bear begins with Aunt Lucy telling Paddington “Long ago, people in England sent their children by train with labels around their necks, so they could be taken care of by complete strangers in the country side where it was safe. They will not have forgotten how to treat strangers.”
Sadly, I don’t think that is true.