Children Refugees

A May 2017 report released by UNICEF counted 300,000 unaccompanied child refugees worldwide in 2015 and 2016. Of those, 100,000 were caught trying to cross the border between Mexico and the U.S. Overall 200,000 asked for asylum in 80 countries. These are staggering numbers.

Many refugees have been uprooted because of violent conflict or abject poverty. We have seen the terrible images of refugees in long lines, slogging across thousands of miles in search of a better life. These people have been caught in brutal wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, and elsewhere. The journeys to the “other side” can be harsh and frightening.

This is a refugee crisis, the worst since during World War II, when Europeans were fleeing the Nazis and Brits were sending their children to the countryside or the U.S. to avoid nightly bombings.

Save the Children, an international non-governmental organization that promotes children's rights, provides relief, and helps support children in developing countries, has identified the most fundamental needs of displaced children. Safe housing, food security, child protection, and education were the areas of most concern.

It is through education that libraries can have the greatest impact.

Libraries have taken on the mission of not only building general awareness of the worldwide refugee crisis, but also helping immigrants find their place in their new adopted homes. Following are some resources to help educate and build awareness of the refugee crisis. Links to supporting titles appear at the end of the article.

It is imperative that child refugees become enrolled in school as soon as possible after their displacement. Going to a safe school not only provides valuable education—it also provides physical protection, continues their social and emotional development, and opens doors for opportunities that would be unavailable otherwise.

  • I’m New Here, by Anne Sibley O’Brien
    - A story of immigrant students from three different countries and how they find success in their new American school.

  • Of Beetles and Angels: A Boy's Remarkable Journey from a Refugee Camp to Harvard, by Mawi Asgedom
    - A triumphant, uplifting biography. For the author, coming to America was a dream, but one filled with contradictions: Candy at Halloween for anyone who asked, set against the ridicule of being called "skeleton" by classmates, due to his having lived through the Ethiopian famine. He took advantage of every educational opportunity and ended up at Harvard!

Consider this excerpt from an online article from School Library Journal, titled A Path Forward: How Libraries Support Refugee Children, by Linda Jacobson:

    "Sophie Maier is the Immigration Services Librarian at the Iroquois Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. She, like many librarians around the world, is trying to help children integrate into their new communities. She says, 'Most of them (child refugees) are living in really rough neighborhoods and searching for ‘what is my new identity?' She goes on to say that parents often expect their children to be a bridge to their new community, but at the same time don’t want them to 'take on the attributes' of American culture.”

Another area of grave concern is protecting child refugees from forced marriage and forced recruitment into armed groups. Often, families who are struggling to stay alive will force children to marry early. This increases the family’s financial ability by merging with another family, and also serves as a way to prevent rape and pregnancy outside of marriage.

  • Open Road, by Alexandra Diaz
    - This is a compelling story. Sometimes, joining a gang is unavoidable, as children feel it’s better to be in a protected group than poor and alone. "After their cousin is murdered, Jaime and Angela (ages 12 and 15) are given the ‘option’ to join the powerful gang controlling their Guatemalan village. A refusal means certain death, so their families make the difficult decision to send the pair north, secretly gathering resources, paying smugglers, and identifying safe houses--all the while aware that their children might not survive the journey.” (School Library Journal Review 03/01/2017)

Finding a New Place to Live
Another area of major concern for child refugees is finding safe housing. A last-ditch solution is settling the child in a different country, in which case "home" usually means family friends, a community, and a safe place to live.

  • Ali’s Story: A Real-Life Account of His Journey from Afghanistan, by Andy Glynne
    - A picture book telling the story of one family’s immigrant journey and their hardships

  • Where Will I Live?, by Rosemary McCarney
    - A photojournalistic look at a child’s greatest wish for a bright new future.

  • Leaving My Homeland — a series from Crabtree Publishing
    - This introduces readers to the history of several war-torn countries and reveals the children’s plight as they leave the terror of their homelands behind.

Moving Forward
Thanks to our 24/7 news cycle, we’ve become more aware of the plight of child refugees. Helping these refugees is a daunting job with a challenging target, but with so many engaged, how can we miss?

  • The Refugee Children’s Progress Report: Grading U.S. Refugee Policy from 2015-17, by Save the Children
    - Excerpt from this online report: “Fortunately, support for refugee education, including local integration, is gaining global momentum. Educating refugee children was a major theme at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, where the first global fund aimed at prioritizing education in humanitarian action was launched.”

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Article Sources
“Children Refugee Crisis.” UNICEF
“Save the Children.”
“World Health Organization Media Center.”
“The World Food Basket,” The World Health Organization.
“Number of Unaccompanied Refugees Soars, UNICEF.