The UK and the other countries of Europe are signatories to children’s rights conventions and yet they are systematically robbing a whole group of children of their basic, human rights by classifying them not as children but as foreigners and asylum seekers.
In a new report from the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), ‘They are Children Too’, analysing 150 cases from across Europe, Liz Fekete shows how unaccompanied minors, children in families of asylum seekers and those whose parents are without the requisite papers, are being damaged by the harsh, target-driven deportation systems which now prevail across the continent. The young people may be sick, traumatised, separated from family members, about to sit exams or still breast-fed, but they are all considered unwanted illegals first and vulnerable children second. Pulling together evidence from 150 cases involving arrest, deportation, detention and destitution from a range of European NGOs and professionals, the report from the IRR’s European Race Audit reminds us what governments have forgotten: that ‘they are children too’.
It is an understanding that some new, popular forces in Europe already have. For, according to Liz Fekete, there are two Europes today. The bureaucratic, heartless, vicious Europe (which seizes children on their way to school, terrorises them in police raids, renders them destitute, incarcerates and deports them) is gradually being counterbalanced by a second Europe of ordinary people, ‘acting in defiance of the law and with great courage, reminding governments what humanitarianism and social solidarity mean in practice’. Parents are hiding foreign children, schoolchildren are campaigning for their friends, faith organisations, doctors, social workers, teachers and child protection agencies are all calling authorities to account.
In the words of A. Sivanandan, IRR director, ‘There is no such thing as your children and my children … Children are the measure of our possibilities; how we treat them is the measure of our humanity. The moment we categorise them as foreign is the moment we lose both … Europe mouths “values”, “Enlightenment”, “tolerance” … But it is only in the heroic efforts of religious and secular groups and individuals to defy the state and take “illegal” children into their protection, in any way they can, is there any evidence that Europe once had a soul.’
Liz Fekete’s earlier report, The Deportation Machine (2005), investigated how the EU’s target-driven policy on asylum seekers was impacting on human rights.