Bring incredible stories of young refugees into the classroom

24 May 2017 BY Judith Dennis

3 mins
Still from short film Hamsa
Still from short film Hamsa

It was the school holidays. Amaal was 13 years old, sitting on her balcony at home, enjoying the sun. That's when it struck. The bomb that nearly killed her. 

After that, her mum was desperate. They wanted to keep their family safe so they had to leave their home. They fled the war in Iraq and moved to Syria. But a few years later, in 2011, war found them there too. 

The world is facing the greatest refugee crisis in recent memory. For those of us fortunate enough to have grown up living in safety, it can be difficult to imagine what its like to be forced to flee your home. That's why stories like Amaal's are so powerful. 

Luckily, her family were able to find safety in the UK. But it meant Amaal had to leave her home again. She had to leave her school and her friends, again. She was afraid, in a new place where she couldn't speak the language. On top of that, she saw images every day of the war ravaging her home. She didn't know what was happening to her friends. It was truly awful.

Through films, the stories and struggles of refugees are brought to life. They allow us to put ourselves into the rickety boats that cross the Mediterranean. To hear the sound of gunfire in the streets. And to begin to imagine what it feels like to finally find safety and begin to rebuild a life. 

Amaal is now studying architecture in the UK and is focussing on buildings for health and housing. She also dreams one day of helping to rebuild Syria and Iraq. 

During Refugee Week we have an important opportunity to recognise the contribution refugees make to their adopted home and to reflect on the situation of those fleeing persecution. There are many issues that young people in the UK can explore and discuss. 

With the war now in its seventh year, Syria's children have been out of school for many years, or have never been at all. Younger pupils can think about what life would be like if they had never attended school, or had to stop before they could read and write. When forced to flee, many children are forced to work to support their families. Some care for brothers and sisters while their parents try to make money to buy food. Others end up becoming child brides. Many children support sick parents, and many become the head of the family when parents are lost to war.

Teenagers often have to make dangerous journeys alone, sometimes to join family members in a safe country. Trafficking, fleeing armed groups alone as a teenager, or being held in detention when your story is disbelieved are just some of the barriers these young refugees face. 

This year the theme of Refugee Week is 'Our Shared Future'. Children and young people are encouraged to reflect on the journeys and struggles faced by young refugees, and what the idea of our shared future means to them. For resources to get your classes talking about refugees visit:

  • Refugee Council - our series of animations in which young refugees tell the stories of their journeys to the UK, suitable for older children.
  • Refugee Week - films, projects and actions for schools to get involved in Refugee Week
Judith Dennis - Refugee Council

Judith Dennis , Refugee Council

Judith joined the Refugee Council in 2000 after working directly with refugee children in London social services. She leads the policy work at the Refugee Council and retains a keen interest in the experiences and rights of refugee children in the UK

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