Using diplomacy to protect children

Photo by  Chinh Le Duc

Photo by Chinh Le Duc

Peace and conflict is the foundation for daily societal challenges in the modern world. Every civilisation from the past and present have had its beak touched by conflict and war, and faced challenges in securing peace. In many ways, conflict is inherently a fabric within human nature. As long as human beings roam the world, disagreements and conflict will always arise. As a result, diplomacy will always remain relevant and jobs will continue to cycle in times of both peace and war. But how does diplomatic situations affect children, particularly as they have no voting rotes or influences in the political system? 

We must remember that children have an equal right to life just as much as adults. However, children need more. They rely on others to develop, to survive, to be protected from violence, abuse and neglect, to be educated, and to thrive into their adult life. Sadly, these rights, which are enshrined in the 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, are being violated every day as millions of children are forced to flee from their homes. According to UNICEF, it is estimated that more than 150 children have died crossing the Central Mediterranean sea in 2017 with the number of infant casualties rising.

The Mediterranean refugee crisis is known to have become an increasingly complicated issue linking three common continents. Migration has always been rising but the dramatic increase shift in migration has become problematic. The impact of this refugee crisis has become a dire situation on the hands of neighbouring European nations, which resulted in public fear and the re-emergence of far right nationalist agendas across the continent.

Negative attitudes hurt the most vulnerable in this crisis, which in this case, are children. In 2015 the European Union was confronted by an influx of refugees escaping war, political persecution and economic desperation. The influx of refugees triggered intense political debate across Europe. According to the UN Department of Economics and Social Affairs, 33,000 children arrived in the Europe, affecting Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and Spain the most. An estimated 20,000 unaccompanied children arrived in Europe in 2017. Although this is almost 70% decrease compared to 2016, in 2017 the proportion of children arriving unaccompanied or separated (UASC) has increased by 31% (UNICEF , Humanitarian Action 2019). According to UNHCR Most of the refugees during 2015,2016 are coming from Muslim majority nations such as Myanmar,Sudan,Somalia, Afghanistan and others from Burundi, Congo, DRC and South Sudan (Deutsche Welle,2018).

Unsafe conditions and mental health of child refugees

The migration route from crossing the Sahara desert to the Mediterranean Sea in an overcrowded boat is one of the most deadliest paths to Europe. Child refugees pay a lot of money to stay in extremely cramped vessels for a journey that does not guarantee completion. The trauma that children face on their travels is both mentally and physically damaging. Many child refugees experience family separation and mental trauma. Human rights violations occur from their country of origin and in transit. Reports regarding children's mental health state that “refugees in Europe indicate that the level of psychosocial damage among refugees is increasing due to difficult life conditions, lack of sufficient supportive services” as well as uncertainty of what’s to come (Zamani M, 2016).

Stressors collected in the mind will cause mental suffering and the more stress that is added to these young children, the more is added on to the problem. Such stress comes in 3 stages that diplomats should be aware of:

●        Stage 1: Forcibly leaving their country of origin

●        Stage 2: Lack of safety during transit

●        Stage 3: Settling in the country of refuge

The brain is the focal point in terms of stress because it responds to possible harm determined by behavioural responses reacting to persecution, vigilance and war. For a young child in the developing stage, post-traumatic stress disorder will be shown on the child in the form of anxiety, the inability to concentrate and depression. Children may experience sleeping difficulties, nightmares, fear the dark and physical ailments like vomiting, headaches or stomach aches (War Trauma in Refugees, 2019). Young children are more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the stage of their development, as they are not mentally matured yet. Through the nervous system, the brain of a child will regulate the balance of hormones that can affect the body process at once. Children can be exposed to both acute and chronic traumatic stressors in traumatic incidents associated with sudden, unexpected or catastrophic events, children are exposed to more chronic destructive forces (Kaminer D, 2010). 

In order to understand and cater for the needs of children in times of war and diplomatic disputes, the following organisations can help provide further support in managing this important but excluded stakeholders. We recommend that you familiarise yourself with resources that are currently available in helping children experiencing homelessness, resettlement and national dispute issues.

ASSAF - ASSAF was founded in 2007 to aid refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. In Hebrew, the acronym for ASSAF stands for the Aid Organisation for Refugees. Their goal is to promote the rights of refugees in their encounters with the state authorities.

CARE - CARE is a global leader within a worldwide movement dedicated to saving lives and ending poverty.

Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) - Doctors without Borders aims to help people worldwide where the need is greatest, delivering emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from health care.

HIAS - HIAS protects the most vulnerable refugees, helping them build new lives and reuniting them with their families in safety and freedom. Another goal is to advocate for the protection of refugees and ensure that displaced people are treated with the dignity that they deserve.

International Rescue Committee - IRC helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and regain control of their future.

Islamic Relief - As an independent faith-based humanitarian and development organisation, Islamic Relief has been serving humanity for over 30 years. With an active presence in over 40 countries, they strive to make the world a better and fairer place for the three billion people still living in poverty, including many refugees.

Karam Foundation - The mission of Karam is to build a better future for Syria, by developing innovative education programs for Syrian refugee youth, distribute smart aid to Syrian families, and fund sustainable development projects initiated by Syrians for Syrians.

ORAM - ORAM’s mission is to enable the international community to protect exceptionally vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers. To this end, they are dedicated to delivering innovative tools, cutting-edge research and empirically-based assessment programmes for refugee professionals around the world.

Project Amal Ou Salaam
Amal Ou Salam means Project Hope and Peace. They are a grassroots organisation dedicated to empowering Syria’s children, including refugees, to rebuild their country and work for peace.

Refugees International
Refugees International advocates for lifesaving protection and assistance for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises. They shine a light on the real problems and make recommendations to policymakers that help shape the response to those in need.

Refugee One - Refugee One creates an opportunity for refugees fleeing war, terror, and persecution to build new lives of safety, dignity, and self-reliance.

Save The Children - Save the Children invests in childhood in times of crisis and the  future. In the United States and around the world, they give children a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm.

Sunrise USA - Founded in 2011 by a group of Syrian-American professionals, Sunrise USA is one of the leading organisations in the United States, focused on providing humanitarian assistance to Syrians, both inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.

UNHCR - For over 65 years, the United Nations has been one of the organisations that help refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is specifically mandated in aid of refugees, has been protecting the rights and well-being of refugees all over the world.

VluchtelingenWerk - VluchtelingenWerk Nederland is one of the Dutch organisations that looks after the interests of refugees and asylum seekers in the Netherlands, from the moment they enter the country until the time they are ready to fully integrate into Dutch society.

World Relief - World Relief is a faith-based organisation with a mission to empower local churches to serve the most vulnerable, such as refugees.

World Vision - World Vision is a faith-based organisation that partners with children, families, and their communities to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.