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Universal Children’s Day 2021: A Welsh welcome to child refugees

‘Shwmae’! This was first word that greeted me when I met some Afghan child refugees recently. They had only been in Wales for three weeks but had already picked up the Welsh greeting of ‘Shw’mae’ (how are you) as well as ‘diolch’ (thank you) and ‘un, dau, tri’ (1,2,3). Their enthusiasm for learning was infectious.

Every year children and the adults who support them celebrate the publication of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on the 20th November.

This year my team and I are celebrating Article 22 of the UNCRC: which spells out that refugee children have the same rights as all other children. This is important because of course refugee children tend to be fleeing from emergencies – whether wars, persecution, famine or climate change events. In an emergency, human rights can be most at risk, and human rights of children most of all.

We have a long history of refugees making Wales their home, from Jews in the 19th century fleeing mass persecution, to the huge disruption of the wars of the 20th century. More recently we have welcomed refugees from Syria and a number of other nations, including small numbers of children who have made their way to the UK unaccompanied by adults. Refugees over many decades have worked and studied, contributed to our nation’s economy and broadened our cultural heritage.

This year the emergency in Afghanistan has led to a number of Afghan families being relocated at short notice to Wales. These are mainly the families of workers who have supported the UK diplomatic service, armed forces and charities in Afghanistan, or are at risk for other reasons.

A unique effort has been made by the Urdd (our Welsh language youth organisation) Taff housing association, local councils, refugee groups, Afghan families already settled in Wales and the Welsh Government.  They have welcomed Afghan families and provided emergency accommodation, and schooling and play for children at very short notice. This all fits well with Wales’s ambition to be a Nation of Sanctuary for refugees.

I had the pleasure of meeting a number of these families recently. It really struck me how the parents I spoke to asked for nothing for themselves, but were keen to know when their children could be enrolled full-time in school to top up the emergency classes that had already been set up for them. The children, like children everywhere, wanted to play. Some of the older ones told me about their ambitions – to get on in school, to become doctors and other professionals. I have no doubt that by welcoming child refugees and their families we not only fulfil our international human rights duties, we are also welcoming children who will make a positive contribution to Wales, now and in the future.

To celebrate Universal Children’s Day we’ve created some simple resources for schools and community groups. Please take a look here, and join in with providing a warm Welsh welcome to refugees!