In a recent blog post, we discussed how difficult it is to start a new school when you don’t share a language. But what about when you have recently arrived as a refugee following a harrowing and distressing journey to the UK? This is, and will continue to be the reality for many Syrian children, who over the course of the next few years will be starting school in Britain.
With recent events, Syrians have become the largest refugee population in the world. The U.N. reports that more than half of all these refugees are under the age of 18, and most have been out of school for months, if not years. With this displacement, comes confusion and fear for younger children who lack the security of a stable home. For older children there comes extra responsibility such as being forced to find work and looking after their family in fraught conditions.
When these children eventually do begin a new school, learning the new language becomes paramount. Some, in the UK will go on to learn English and interpret for family members. Other families will already speak English, but children will play a role in translating culture and norms in a new setting. All of this will take place alongside the many complexities they have had to deal with to reach the new country.
The role of young people in settlement is central and often overlooked. In our research, we focus on the important work young interpreters do for their families. Some of the young interpreters we have spoken to, were also former refugees coming from war torn regions such as Afghanistan. One such young boy shared with us how he experienced intolerance at school as a result of UK troops fighting in the war and associated negative media coverage. This, he told us, added to the challenges of moving to a new country.
In trying to further pinpoint these challenges, the charity MercyCorps, recently asked 150 Syrian youth and host community residents to draw and photograph images reflecting their daily routines, challenges they face and future goals. Children’s creations were around 4 main themes: loss, homesickness, isolation and determination. Images included those of derelict buildings, chains, and cemeteries symbolising loss, but also of flowering buds, trees and the horizon, symbolising hope and the ability of children to maintain determination. Similarly, in our project, we plan to use creative and artistic methods with our young interpreters to enable them to communicate their experiences and identifications in different ways, unconstrained by language.
We end with an image from the MercyCorps project, made by a young Syrian refugee demonstrating resilience through the odds. They explain.
“It’s a very small drawing but it has a big meaning. This tree represents me. The wind, the lines to the right of the tree, represent the things that keep me from who I want to become in life. While this wind can blow the leaves from my branches, you see them here falling to the ground, it cannot knock me over. The soil and the roots of the tree keep me from being knocked over.”