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Working to provide a safe space for children seeking sanctuary in Europe

Most mornings, if you are to walk down the main street of Chios town, you will see a large group of young children walking hand in hand. Sometimes you will hear them before you see them, as they joyfully sing “the lion sleeps tonight” with their teachers. These students attend Be Aware and Share’s primary school, one of three establishments set up for children and young people seeking sanctuary in Europe, who have found themselves trapped on Chios by the 2016 EU-Turkey deal. Be Aware and Share, a Swiss NGO, also run a high school and a youth centre, both of which I have been volunteering in over the past few months.

Chios is in the strange situation of lying on the edge of the EU, on the periphery of a series of countries working hard to keep people seeking sanctuary out. It is a stones throw away from Turkey, which on most days can be seen from the port in the main town; a constant reminder of the journey that so many students have made.

Photograph by Niels Franke
Souda Camp

Working on Chios opens your eyes to both the best and worst of humanity. The camps themselves show the worst, epitomising the worlds’ inhumanity when supporting people who have been displaced by conflict and persecution. There are two camps on the island, which although very different, are similar in the way that they are not places that should be lived in. Souda camp is a vast series of tents, crammed in an old car park by the sea. Since I was last here in January, the tents have spread onto the beach, a sign of the immense overcrowding. I cannot tell you what the inside of Vial is like, since it is a securitised area into which most NGOs are not allowed. Reports from inside paint a hellish picture. Again, these are not places that people should have to live, which is why the schools and youth centre are so important. They offer a safe space away from the camps. They offer a place for kids to be kids.

This is where the best of humanity comes in. The students who attend the schools, who bring smiles to school even when they have barely slept the night before. Students from countries like Syria and Afghanistan, who dream of being lawyers, doctors, barbers, footballers, engineers; students who would be an asset to any country lucky enough to have them. To say that they are inspirational is an understatement, but they do give you hope for the future. Which in turn the schools and youth centre give back to them. These establishments give them not just education, but confidence, and a place they can feel safe and supported.

Photograph by Niels Franke

I cannot stress how important this project is. Since opening, more than 1300 children have accessed education, and the project sees around 250 young people each week. Nicholas Millet, one of the coordinators of the project, impressed upon the importance of the work, saying that it “upholds the  rights of children to access education. Our work is even more important when that right is being actively denied by the government who has the responsibility.”

Since it started, the project has been mostly funded by the EU. However at the end of July, the funding will instead go to the Greek government. As it stands there are no plans to integrate the children into the Greek public school system, meaning that the project is still very much needed in order that these young people are able to access their human right to education. To keep the project running until the end of the year, Be Aware and Share, the NGO behind the project, need 120, 000 Swiss Francs (around £95, 800.) This is where people like you come in. With your help, the project can continue to give children a much-needed safe space in an unstable situation. It can continue giving young people a place they can learn, a place of education and sanctuary.

The institutions run by the project, according to Anna Suter, Vice President of BAAS and Coordinator of the high school, “are essential for the students; for many it is the only possibility to leave the camp for a couple of hours. The project also provides structure and some normality, allowing kids to be kids, teenagers to be teenagers, and develop their social skills in a non-violent atmosphere.”

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