Imagine being a parent of a son of 2years, a daughter of 6years and a daughter of 13years in age. Now imagine your home being rained down with bombs and bullets, seeing fighting all around you, very little food to feed the family, scared to venture out, scared to sleep at night, knowing that many members of your family and many friends are dead as a result of a vicious war that seems to have been going on for ever, worrying it will never end.
What would you do? Stay or run for your life and that of your family’s? I know what I would do (and have done). Runnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, to a safe place where my family would have a chance for a better life, a future!
So, you pick whatever you can carry which is obviously your children and some clothes if you can. In the darkness of the night you leave your beloved home where your children had been born…good memories of happy times.
And now you are on a road which you are hoping will lead you to the safe place. On the way you join hundreds of others who are also running to the safe place. You and the family walk, run, hide, cry quietly… you are all hungry and cold. You are worried about the children. Yesterday, your 6year old daughter was separated from the family. You felt guilty. Why did you not prevent that from happening? Thankfully she is found and you sit her down to explain the dangers of wondering away. But she is falling asleep…hungry again this evening. A few days pass and your 2year old son steps on something sharp and cuts his foot. You wash it with some water, but what if it gets infected. They tell you the refugee camp is almost three days away. You pray…and pray some more. Your 13year old daughter helps you to carry him and watches the wound for signs of redness, swelling, pus. She remembers what she learnt at school in a first aid class.
You have been on the road for two weeks. You and the family are feeling weak. When will this nightmare stop? When will my children enjoy what they had before. School, toys, playing with their friends away from dangers, the love of their grandparents, reading books….You are so weak and distressed you cannot even tell them a story at night or sing them a lullaby. You are so proud of your older daughter who tries to do some of the things you cannot do. You know it is your duty to be a good parent. But you tell yourself that you are now a bad parent. Your reasoning: ‘I cannot provide enough food for them, I cannot make them happy, I cannot keep them safe….’. But your love for them shouts: ‘Don’t give up your hope for a better life, help will come to you, being a parent is a challenge at the best of times and in these bad times the challenge is even bigger’.
The message of my blog is that refugee parents face enormous challenges both during their escape, and during their stay in refugee camps. There is plenty of evidence that children suffer physical and emotional trauma. Some are the victims of sexual abuse, and exploitation of many kinds. Some die. Undoubtedly the challenges continue even when they arrive in the host country of their choice. But many survive and grow up to be healthy, resilient and model citizens. All they need from society is compassion, which means not only empathy and sympathy but also practical help and relevant action from us.