ALONE: Rose Kala as Khadija
THERE ARE at least 5000 unaccompanied children who live in the UK without parents or families and who seek asylum according to the Children’s Society.
That number is only an estimate; the real number is probably far higher. There are kids who have no family but have found themselves alone in a country for a variety of reasons.
Some have been sent away to a place of ‘safety’ because their parents have been killed or are missing, some are former child soldiers, others flee forced marriage or female genital mutilation. But one thing these kids have in common is that they are all vulnerable.
Sadly, the Government has a tendency to treat unaccompanied minors not like the children they are but like “terrorists”, according to community worker Shamser Sinha. After spending the last ten years working with vulnerable teenagers in east London, he has written a play called Khadija is 18, which looks at the lives of unaccompanied refugee minors and what happens to them when they turn 18.
Khadija (played by Rose Kala) and Liza (played by Katherine Morley) are two teenage refugees, who must deal with the usual teenage dilemmas of boys, school and sex and try to cope with the fact that the immigration clock is quickly ticking away. What will happen to them once they turn 18? No one knows and that is why Sinha was compelled to write this play.
PLAYWRIGHT: Shamser Sinha
“I was disenchanted with the way young asylum seekers are portrayed and talked about and acted upon,” said the 39-year-old. “On one side there’s the way the government, the media and some people stigmatise asylum seekers, they are accused of taking the jobs and the houses, of being terrorists and taking up valuable time of the GPs and healthcare resources.
“But on the other side I was also upset with the rendering of young asylum seekers as people who were suffering and were desperate because they were asylum seekers – which they may be, but they are also young people, they have their own energy, they fall in love and out of love, they have their friends hobbies and aspirations.”
The governmen’s treatment of minor refugees has recently come under investigation. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has launched an inquiry into whether the treatment of unaccompanied migrant children is consistent with the UK’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Happy that an inquiry has been launched, the playwright admitted that he considers the government’s treatment of migrant children to be a form of inhumanity.
“There’s something demeaning for both sides if you don’t see how a child is a young person first. Aspects of their lives are brushed under the carpet and ignored, young people at the age of 16, who don’t have parents in this country or whose parents are dead, are being sent back to war zones. There is an inhumanity of just seeing young asylum seekers as a label."
“These kids want to go to university, they want to get a job and they are building lives here but they face possible deportation to a country they left a while ago that they don’t know and their family members might be dead,” he argued.
According to Sinha, there is logic behind the indiscriminate deportation of children to war zones; but he completely disagrees with it.
“I don’t sympathise in any way with the government’s position against asylum seekers. However I understand the logic behind their thinking. It’s a case of scapegoats, Britain can present itself as a modern and diverse society, but behind that mask there is a license to target migrants. It’s not passed off as racist but as anti-immigration tactics.”
He added: “They like migrants from certain countries, like Spain or France - we don’t think of kicking them out and neither should we, but we do if migrants are from the Congo or Afghanistan and that has historical precedence.”
LOST: Katherine Rose Morley as Liza
Seeing all the anger that people have toward immigrants and the difficulties that are placed on the shoulders of the youngsters, the London-born volunteer never became disillusioned with the difficult reality of his work.
“I was demoralised some times, but it was countered every time I saw the youngsters. They have so much energy and get excited about being kids and teenagers and doing things like ice skating and laser-quest. They love going to school and getting an education, they might not love the reception they get at school, but they look forward to when they go and play football. You get your energy back.”
Khadija is 18 is on show at the Finborough Theatre until November 24, for more information visit www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk