‘Mention The Unmentioned’ urges ministers to take action for refugee children.Last year, a record number of refugees and migrants came to Europe. They came from situations of extreme poverty, violence, war, abuse. Once in Europe, they were gathered in overpopulated camps and reception centers across the continent, living conditions are often horrible.
And while the media shows us images of refugees and migrants, we gradually stopped noticing the most vulnerable among them. The group that politicians hardly mention and who are literally only a footnote in the European Agenda on Migration… the children. So, with a simple Facebook campaign we ask people to ‘Mention the Unmentioned’.
By commenting on facebook posts of portraits of refugee and migrant children, people can mention their minister and put pressure on them to finally face children like Gulwali, Ali and Layal. Find your minister here. Mention your minister on Facebook
Here are the stories of those children. ↓
Photograph credit: Gulwali Passarlay
GulwaliGulwali was 13 when he finally reached the UK. His mother had paid people traffickers to take him and his brother from Afghanistan to Europe. With his father and grandfather already killed in the war by US armed forces and the Taliban pressuring them to become suicide bombers, it was the only way his mother could see to keep her sons alive. He was split up from his brother almost immediately by smugglers and endured a tortuous journey – he was incarcerated three times, jumped from a speeding train in Bulgaria, nearly breaking both legs, slept rough frequently, and burned by chemicals in a lorry.
Once in the UK, his difficulties were not over. The authorities did not believe he was 13, nor Afghani and laughed at him. They said that his face, ravaged from the journey, was too mature and that a 13 year old would not have made such a trip as he had done. They placed him in a hostel for adult males. Exhausted, traumatised and bewildered, Gulwali was then told that in 18 months, when they believed he would be 18, he would be deported back to Afghanistan. On 3 separate occasions Gulwali considered suicide to end the hopeless nightmare his life had become.
Finally, through a chance encounter with his brother and with the help of an organisation called “Starting Point”, he was able to confirm his real age through the Afghan embassy along with independent proof from a doctor. Three lost and difficult years after arriving in the UK, Gulwali was placed into foster care and was finally able to go to school. Gulwali is now 23, has 10 GCSEs, five A levels, and graduated with a degree from Manchester University in politics, philosophy and economics. He has written a book, spoken at the UN and carried the Olympic torch. He is also an activist, campaigner and champion for unaccompanied migrant children. An award-winning leader, Gulwali has garnered the Distinguished Achievement Award (Student of the Year), Collaborative Leadership Award, and among others, the Manchester Leadership Gold Award, all from the University of Manchester. Gulwali is also the author of an autobiography: 'The Lightless Sky: A Twelve-Year-Old Refugee's Harrowing Escape from Afghanistan and His Extraordinary Journey Across Half The World", has spoken at two TEDx events, and has been featured on live TV channels such as BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN, Channel 4 News, itv, Russia Today, as well as in print media such as The Guardian, Time Magazine, The Independent, Scotsman, and more. As a fervent advocate for many social justice issues and causes, Gulwali was nominated for the 2016 Nansen Refugee Award by the UNHCR. Today, he continues to make a positive impact in the community, locally and abroad. More information
Photograph credit: Jeff Malo, jeffmalo.com
AliAli was 15 and the youngest of four. He was born and raised by his father in a small city close to Mogadishu, Somalia. His mother and older brother had died when he was too young to remember them. Both his sisters had already married and moved abroad – one was living in the UK and another was in Saudi Arabia. When Ali was 9, his father, a cook for the local police force, was killed by Al Shababb, an Islamist militant group, for refusing to poison the food of the police officers. Ali was then taken in by his uncle who made him work long hours on his farm and beat him regularly.
One day, with the support of his uncle, Al Shabaab came knocking to recruit Ali as a fighter. Ali knew he had to escape and fled to Mogadishu where he lived on the streets for three months, cleaning shoes to make a living. He finally made contact with an old friend and colleague of his father who gave Ali somewhere to stay. However, once again aided by his uncle, Al Shabaab tracked him down and accused him of being a spy for the government. As a threat of the consequences he would face if he did not heed their demands, they sent him money and told him to buy his funeral ceremonial kaftan – clothes that are worn by the dead before they are cremated. At this point, Ali knew his life was in immediate danger. With the help of his father’s former colleague, he escaped from Somalia and hoped to make his way to his sister.
Currently Ali is in Cyprus and is staying at the shelter ‘Home for Hope’. He still suffers from hearing loss today as a result of the physical beatings he received from his uncle. He hopes one day that he will get to join his sister in the UK. Story shared by Consortium: SPAVO & HFC (National member organisation of Missing Children Europe in Cyprus) based on children living in their refugee homes.
Photograph credit: Jeff Malo, jeffmalo.com
LayalLayal was 7 when her mother was killed by a sniper. A year later, she and her father, Khaled left Syria to find safety. They wanted to live in Germany and to have the chance to lead a normal life by escaping the war and bloodshed. The hazardous journey started from Syria and ended in Turkey.
Father and daughter had to walk for days in terrible weather and constantly in fear for their lives. Initially, they stayed at a reception centre with other Syrians while Layal’s father was trying to figure out a way continue onwards to Greece. Suddenly however, Khaled had a stroke and had to be hospitalised. 5 days later, Khaled passed away and left the terrified young girl all alone in a country with no friends or family. Luckily, a Syrian family also staying at the centre decided to take Layal under their wing and paid a trafficker to take them all to Greece. The boat was old and rotten and they left in the early hours of the morning. Layal was scared for her life but the family finally arrived in Leros Island. There they stayed together in Leros for 2 months after which they were transferred to Piraeus port and then to Elliniko where they are currently living. Layal believes she has relatives from her mother’s side in Germany but it has been hard to trace them with the limited information she has. Story shared by The Smile of the Child (National member organisation of Missing Children Europe in Greece) based on children living in hotspots set up for migrants and their families.
Photograph credit: The Smile of the Child
SochrampSochramp was 15 when he was told to leave Afghanistan by his father. One of his brothers had already been captured by the Taliban and had not been heard of since. Another brother had disappeared and he was feared to have been killed by a bomb blast. Terrified of being recruited by the Taliban or killed, Sochramp left Afghanistan and headed to Iran where he stayed for a month. From there he was finally able to travel through Turkey and took a boat to the island of Chios where he stayed in a refugee camp. He then took another boat to Piraeus, where he stayed for two months in terrible camp conditions. As he wanted to eventually get to Switzerland, he left to Thessaloniki where he stayed for a month trying to find a way to cross the border. However, when he did eventually try to cross the border, he was caught and sent back to a camp in Attica. Sochramp shared his story whilst in the Attica camp where he received support and some basic necessities.
*After Sochramp shared his story with us, he went missing again. He turned up several weeks later having tried to cross the border into Italy through the port of Patras. He had been arrested and detained at a police station. Eventually he was placed in a centre for unaccompanied children. Story shared by The Smile of the Child (National member organisation of Missing Children Europe in Greece) based on children living in hotspots set up for migrants and their families.
AshkanWhen the interview was conducted, Ashkan had already been in the Reception Centre for asylum seekers for 6 months. He had travelled from Afghanistan through Iran, Turkey and along the 'Balkan route' before coming to Croatia. The trip lasted for 2 months.
He came to Croatia with his older brother who decided to move on to western countries, after spending few months in Croatia. They are in contact and his brother says he regrets leaving Croatia.
Ashkan grew up in Afghanistan and was raised by his father’s cousin.
His father was killed in a Taliban’s bomb attack 13 years ago; he was one of 13 people that got killed that day, as he was told by his cousin. Because of that his family moved to his cousin’s home. A year ago his mother died of a heart attack, and he is angry that Afghanistan doesn’t have good medical care because urgent intervention could have saved his mother’s life.
His childhood was hard growing up without father. His family were mostly farmers and he didn’t have the chance to go to school at all. Because of the Taliban’s it wasn’t safe to go to school. His cousin treated him and his brother poorly, and as he didn’t have support from his father; he had to work from an early age. His cousin decided to send him and his brother to Europe after Taliban’s attempts to recruit them to the army. As he didn’t have a family except his cousin’s, he gladly accepted the offer to leave Afghanistan and go to Europe to seek a better and more secure life for him and his brother.
They started their journey from Afghanistan to Pakistan and then to Iran. They weren’t part of a larger group as is usually the case but were guided by one man.
The journey was hard, they went by transportation or on foot, often witnessing awful things: ‘We were treated so badly by smugglers’, Ashkan says, and continues to describe a situation that disturbed him deeply: ‘on one occasion, we were transported by a truck with an open trunk, there were more people with me, after a truck had hit a bump on a road, one boy, also Afghani, fell off the truck onto the road. The driver didn’t stop the truck, even though we yelled and begged him to. All we could do was to look at the boy lying on the ground, while we drove away. I don’t know if the boy was alive or not.’
‘When talking about everything I went through, I feel sick.’
He says he was lucky that he travelled with his brother and that now he feels very lonely, after his brother left Croatia.
On the journey he was often very cold, and they would seek shelter in cattle pens in order not to freeze. The coldest days were at the Turkish Iranian border where they had to go through the mountains during winter. They had to wait for hours in deep snow for a truck to pick them up, and the truck often had a flat tire which made them wait even longer. The moment he reached the truck he fell asleep. They were hungry all the time, and smugglers wouldn’t give them any food.
‘I hate snow, I have very bad memories related to the snow and freezing.’
He doesn’t think he would have survived the trip if he hadn’t been with his brother who took care of him and told him often that he must go on, that soon it would be over and that they would reach their destination and arrive at a peaceful place. His brother even gave him his own jacket when they were in the mountains. In a way, Ashkan also gave his brother a purpose during the journey, to take care of his younger brother.
‘The smugglers route was very, very hard but I have passed it, I survived!’
When arriving to Slovenia, they were tricked into signing some papers that justified Slovenian police to deport them back to Croatia. The Slovenian police treated them badly; some of his friends were hit by batons. Neither he nor his brother had any idea about the asylum system and the rights they had. They were scared that they would get deported back to Afghanistan.
Ashkan describes his brother’s psychological problems and why he went on without him. His brother changed when they arrived, he had trouble going to sleep, would gnash his teeth at when asleep, and was nervous and depressed constantly. Now that they are separated, Ashkan doesn’t know when he will see his brother again.
‘I often have bad dreams and sometimes I hear my mother’s voice calling me but when I wake up, no one is around me and a feeling of sadness settles over me.’
He wants to stay in Croatia and hopes his brother will come back once he is granted asylum. He likes Croatia, especially the people.
‘People at the Reception Centre treat me well, but I sometimes have to wait a long time to get things I need, like sneakers.‘
At this moment, Ashkan is still waiting for his asylum status to be resolved so he can settle down, reunite with his brother and go on with his life by putting behind everything that he went through.