Calais and Whale Wharf

We continue teaching in Greece but this week has seen a lot of activity in England. We have visited a number of schools and met with teachers who are interested in helping us fund raise in their local areas. We are getting increasing amounts of contacts from communities in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, asking us if we can help them with schooling, as thousands of children are unable to go to school. The sad reality is that we just do not have the funding to be able to do much more at present, so looking at ways of increasing fund raising activity is an important priority for us.

This week sees the end of another project, albeit a project which never actually formally began. Like everyone else we have been very concerned about the plight of unaccompanied minors in Europe. We have witnessed with our own eyes the violence and the danger that the children live in. Over the last few months we have listened to officials expressing a desire to take in substantial numbers of the children. But then nothing ever seems to actually, as it is said that the requisite number of foster carers are not available.

With this in mind we met with a number of groups and organisations in the Spring and put a proposal together so that there was a way of taking groups of up to 500 unaccompanied minors. The groups found a site at Whale Wharf (near Bristol) which had planning permission for a 500 student school. A plan was put together for a 365 day a year boarding school, which could be opened relatively quickly in the existing buildings.

The thinking behind the proposal was that foster care is obviously a better solution for unaccompanied minors. But if that is not available, then at least this is a way of moving the situation forward and getting significant numbers of children out of danger and into safety. We know that unaccompanied minors are facing daily hunger, cold, physical abuse, sexual abuse and risk of kidnapping from traffickers.

There can be no doubt about the danger that the children are in. There are reports from UNICEF, Save the Children, The House of Lords, the House of Commons, MEPs, and many others. We ourselves remember seeing children hiding under tables so that smugglers couldn’t find them. We ourselves have bandaged their wounds when unaccompanied minors have been beaten up by violent gangs. Interpol have estimated previously that around 10,000 children might have even gone missing. In this context, where it is an indisputable fact that significant numbers of children are in peril, we thought that there could be merit in setting up a boarding school in order to get larger numbers of children out of danger and into physical safety.

The proposal was complex as there was also a need to address the legal guardianship of the children. Another well established charity came forward with a proposal for how this could be done and decision makers agreed that it was feasible. The proposals have rested with decision makers ever since.

There was a brief flurry of interest recently as the closure of the Calais Jungle led to fears that there could be need to cater for a significant number of unaccompanied minors. We ourselves at Edlumino have not been a part of those most recent discussions as our focus has been on teaching children in Greece. However we understand that decision makers no longer see a need for a facility to take large numbers of children. So the Whale Wharf proposal is now being discontinued.

We are touched by those who have got in touch with us expressing sorrow at the ending of this project. However we ourselves are neither sad nor pleased by the fact that Whale Wharf is not going ahead. This was never about Whale Wharf itself. It is about vulnerable children who are scared and needy having a home. Whale Wharf was just one way of meeting their needs. If there are alternative ways, then that is fine with us. We just want to see the children safe.

All we ever wanted to do with the Whale Wharf proposal was to show that there was a ‘can-do’ way forward, if decision-makers did in fact want to be able to take large numbers of unaccompanied minors at relatively short notice. I think we have achieved that goal, whatever actually now happens on the ground.

Once we have completed our current fund raising round we will be returning our focus to Greece, where we are hoping to continue with efforts to help refugee children achieve formal qualifications. Although recent news stories report that children in Greece have begun to go to state schools, the numbers are still very low. The refugee children we are working with in Greece still have no idea when they will be able to access schools. And even those who do access schools are struggling to obtain qualifications based on school leaving certificates, because they have missed so much schooling. If we can get the funding in place we hope to be able to show that there are simpler solutions available so that children who have missed a lot of schooling can still get the qualifications necessary in order to be able to get into good universities.

See more at BBC News online report .

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