Call for Sheffield people to welcome 'traumatised' child refugees

Michelle Kingan with fellow volunteers from Social Workers Without Borders
Michelle Kingan with fellow volunteers from Social Workers Without Borders
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Child refugees from ‘The Jungle’ in Calais being re-homed in Sheffield will almost certainly arrive with post-traumatic stress disorder due to their ‘horrendous’ experiences.

That’s according to a Sheffield social worker who volunteered in the refugee camp, which the French authorities this month finished dismantling.

Michelle Kingan

Michelle Kingan

Michelle Kingan, who travelled to Calais with the charity Social Workers Without Borders, spoke of the heartbreaking ordeal endured by children fleeing war-torn countries, both before and after their arrival at the makeshift camp.

“All the children from the camp I would feel are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because of what they’ve had to deal with,” said the Sheffield Council social work consultant.

“Children should be thinking about getting to school, not worrying about where they’re going to get their next meal from.

“One volunteer I met there spoke very negatively about the French military police at the camp.

“She said she had seen an 18-month-old baby getting tear gas sprayed in the face while in her mother’s arms.

“She also told how a young lad had been hit in the back of the head by a tear gas canister, and had suffered brain damage.

“The treatment at the hands of the French police has at times been horrendous.”

The UK has so far taken in around 300 children from The Jungle who have family in this country or were assessed as being particularly vulnerable.

Those youngsters are being placed into the care of local authorities across the country, including Sheffield Council.

A council spokeswoman said fewer than five children from the camp had so far arrived in the city, but described the numbers being taken in as a ‘changing picture’.

Michelle said it was important for Sheffielders to welcome refugees settling here and make them feel like ‘valued citizens’, especially given the distress many had experienced.

“If you’ve already had this horrible journey to get here, you should feel you’re in a place of sanctuary. We want people here to welcome them, chat with them and give them that human element people have lost,” she said.

“The charity I volunteered for in Calais wanted to ensure people in the camp were treated as more than a number or part of a mass of migrants, as they were referred to by some tabloids. “We wanted to recognise their individual strengths and skills and to show they’re not a burden but can be valued citizens with a lot to offer.”

Michelle described her grandfather, who arrived in Britain after fleeing Nazi persecution, as an excellent example of what refugees could contribute to their adopted countries.

Max Harris, she said, went on to join the British Army and was among the troops who freed captives from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the end of World War II.

He later founded an electrical engineering firm, Leeds Transformer Company, which is still going strong and providing employment.

Coun Jackie Drayton, cabinet member for children, young people and families, said Sheffield would ‘do our bit’ to address what she called ‘possibly the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II’.

“An unprecedented number of people have been fleeing war, conflict and torture,” she said.

“We are talking here about innocent children who have been subjected to some of the most horrendous sights on this earth.

“They might have seen their mum and dad killed, maimed, taken away and never heard of again.

“It is hard for us to imagine what some of them have been through.

“It would not be right for us to stand by and do nothing while expecting others to act on our behalf.

“Sheffield will do our bit.

“Now it is time for the Government to fulfil their responsibilities and give us the funding which will enable us to give children the support they need.”

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