This from five years ago: it came back into my mind as I read today that in Sudan , children are being injured and sometimes slaughtered despite the agreement that the south can secede.
Three asylum seeking African boys have been referred. They have been sent here by their mothers to avoid near-certain death, speak so little English as to be totally dislocated from everything said to them, come from villages where the main problem is lack of rain, and find themselves in a damp town full of lights and traffic. They seem awfully young though they are tall and good-looking and now smile sometimes. I have two concerns for them. One is obviously the trauma they have experienced. The other is the total lack of fun and teenage-boy-things in their lives. My daughter was suggesting that a big loss in the lives of unaccompanied child refugees is that safe feeling you have when you are with a parent who takes over. As a child, you can relax, let go, sleep if you want to – in the secure knowledge that someone else will keep you safe. These boys have no longer got that safety. They are housed in a large former council home, with families and single people all en route to some other accommodation. The three share a room, and all stretch just a little beyond their bed length. The room is impersonal, naturally, and the boys have few belongings. Food is provided but they have been unable so far to attend English classes and can only ask questions when they have a native speaker available to translate for them. Most of the staff only speak english although they are kind and well-intentioned. No pets are allowed, and football is unwelcome because the ball breaks windows. They are full of energy and depression. Perhaps the first aggravates the second. I decided to offer to take them swimming, and when it was deemed acceptable by the powers that are, bought them trunks and collected them at teatime. They were nicely dressed and looked excited. We drove some distance to the Leisure Centre and I paid for them to go in. Then what? There were no men on duty but I was lucky enough to find a male cleaner who could speak with them and he took them to the changing rooms and showed them how the lockers worked, where the facilities were etc. I watched them come into the pool, duck under the water, stand under the water feature, swirl again and again down the lazy river, and just enjoy the power of their bodies. It was good. Afterwards we went for an Indian meal. I used animal noises to identify the meat and other sounds to indicate spicy food. They seemed to enjoy the different tastes. One of the boys laughed and said ‘This good. At home, we sit together with mother and eat.’ Later I saw another boy smiling. Why? I asked, and he smiled again and said ‘swimming’. We drove home in a companionable silence, admiring the house and street lights and the fuzzy edges that rain leaves on lampposts. And when we got back, they said Thank you again and again and again. This was such a normal part of my son’s life, and should be the normal entitlement of any child. The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child clarifies this and we still allow awful things to happen to too many children.
Next time I shall post the update.