Tuesday 20th June was World Refugees Day, an international day to honour people who have been forced to flee their homes. As we continue grappling with one of Europe’s worst refugee crisis, it’s normal to be wondering what to share with your children and how they are processing all the news.
Whilst we try to shield our children from the current war in Ukraine, or other human tragedies around the world, it’s highly probable they will have heard about it. Whether it’s a neighbour taking in a Ukrainian refugee family, a new accommodation centre supporting displaced people opening in your neighbourhood, children living in Direct Provision joining your child’s classroom, or overhearing a discussion on television, it’s best to be prepared.
How and what you tell your children about the refugee crisis, depends on their age and personality. For example, one may be a worrier and the other a warrior. Here are some guiding points to help you support your kids and answer questions or worries they may have.
Do some research:
In order to be prepared to handle the hard questions it is helpful to check some reliable sources on the topic (the UN Refugee agency, UNCHR, is a recommended one). Globally we are facing the highest level ever of people displacement on record, and even before the war in Ukraine started global refugee numbers were estimated at 26 million. Almost 12 million people are believed to have fled Ukraine and 6.6 million were forced to flee due to conflict in Syria. On top of that, half of these refugees are children. Alternatively, if your child has access to the internet, explain to them to be careful of social media news sources and if you can, give your own tips on trustworthy sites to check data.
Listen to them:
You can break the ice and start with an open-ended question by asking your kids what they already know about refugees. In addition, you might want to ask a follow up question such as ‘Why do you think these people had to flee their homes?’ and ‘What can we do about it to help?’. Listen, and give them space to express their worries feeling and questions. Try to answer their questions truthfully and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know or express your own feelings. Name the feelings you / they might feel and keep your answers simple using child friendly language. For the very sensitive child it might help to get them to write down their worries and put them in a ‘worry box’ and revisit later. After you can throw them away if the child is ready to let go of those feelings.
Make them feels safe and protected:
It is natural that some children might relate to the refugee children and feel powerless and scared. Some children might be worried they would have to leave their homes and become refugees too if the war spreads. Acknowledge their fears and reassure them that they are in a safe place. If they are concerned about the current wellbeing of refugee children, you can tell them about charities like Médecins Sans Frontières or Save the Children are creating safe spaces for children to play and learn in.
Talk about values and how they can help refugees:
This could be a good opportunity to teach our children about humanity and values of compassion, kindness and inclusivity. Encourage your kids to put their energy into positive action to help the refugees!
As part of World Refugee Day in Limerick we are running a two week campaign to understand the benefits of diversity and learn about racism, its different forms and how to respond and talk about it. You can get involved by following Limerick United Against Racism on Twitter (@LKagainstracism), Instagram (@limerickunitedagainstracism) and Facebook (Limerick United Against Racism); visit www.limerickunitedagainstracism.ie to access our learning resources; gather together as a family to have a conversation about the strength that diversity brings to our communities and take a photo or post an image to social media afterwards sharing yours and your kids thoughts about the value of diversity and the impact of racism. Please tag Limerick United Against Racism and use the hashtag #DiversityIsStrength.
Here are some key facts and terms to understand when talking to your children about refugees:
According to UNHCR, the following are the key facts and figures regarding global forced displacement at the end of 2022:
- 108 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide
- 35 million are refugees and 65 million are internally displaced
- 1 in every 75 people on the planet were forced to flee their homes
- 41% of refugees are children
- 3 out of every 4 refugees are hosted in developing countries
Asylum Seekers: A person who seeks to be recognised as a refugee by Ireland’s Department of Justice under the 1951 Geneva Convention.
Forced Displacement: The movement of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of residence, as a result of persecution, conflict, situations of generalized violence, human rights violations or natural or human-made disasters.
International Protection Applicants: are persons who have sought the protection of another State because their own country is unable or unwilling to protect them. Protection needs include persecution or threat to life, freedom or physical integrity arising from armed conflict, war or violence. It may also include those displaced by famine, natural disasters or climate change.
Refugee: A person who has been granted the legal right to stay in Ireland by the Department of Justice because they or their family would face persecution if they returned to their own country
This article was written by the Anti-Racism sub-group of Limerick Migrant Integration Steering Group on behalf of Parenting Limerick. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support agencies. For more information on the campaign go to www.limerickunitedagainstracism.ie and follow the #DiversityIsStrengthLK on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook