SIR Chris Hoy and Andy Murray are among a list of celebrities calling on the government to take urgent action to reunite lone Syrian refugee children with their families.
The sport stars have joined with Unicef UK in a plea to speed up current reunion procedures, citing the case of a 16-year-old boy who spent seven months alone in Calais in a bid to join his brother in the UK.
There are unaccompanied refugee children in Europe risking their lives to reach relatives in the UK despite having the legal right to be brought here safely. The government must do more to reunite these children with their family here in the UK.Chris Hoy
The boy, Bilal, fled his home in Syria when the uprising began. He left without his mother and father who had to stay behind to care for his elderly grandparents. Although the law states he could be with his brother, he was forced to wait in France where he witnessed violence and the death of two friends as they tried to escape on a train.
Sir Chris Hoy, six-time Olympic Champion and a Unicef UK Ambassador, said: “Having heard Bilal’s heartbreaking story of his journey from Syria, and his struggle to be reunited with his brother, I hope that the public will join me in backing his campaign.
“There are unaccompanied refugee children in Europe risking their lives to reach relatives in the UK despite having the legal right to be brought here safely. The government must do more to reunite these children with their family here in the UK.”
Bilal’s story is not uncommon and there are still hundreds of children who have not been reunited with their relatives in the UK.
Unicef is urging the Government to put an end to this by reuniting youngsters with their families.
Andy Murray, British Tennis number one and also a Unicef UK Ambassador, said: “For these children the chance to be reunited with their family in the UK could be life-changing and make sure they’re kept safe from violence, exploitation and abuse.”
Bilal travelled alone for a year before he finally met up with his brother at the end of March, sailing on a boat from Turkey to Greece with 45 other people fearing for their lives as a hole appeared in the vessel.
He said: “The worst part of my journey was being in Calais because most people there were subjected to violence and humiliation. Every day people would try to find ways of leaving. My friends and I tried to get on to a train to get away but I had to watch while two friends died under the train.”
He added: “I feel very lucky to be here in the UK. Some people have a negative idea of refugees but we just want another chance at a better life.”
Unicef UK insists that if the Home Office had ten more officials working to reunite families, all of the 157 children stuck in Calais could be living with their families in Britain in time to start school after the summer.
Unicef UK deputy executive director Lily Caprani said: “The government has said that unaccompanied children should be brought to the UK if they have family here, yet these children’s cases are moving far too slowly. It’s time for the government to turn its promise into a reality.
“The children in Calais are the nearest and most visible cases of children who are fleeing conflict and making dangerous journeys in search of safety, yet have a legal right to live with their families in the UK. I’ve seen the terrible conditions they are living in. By taking immediate action, the government can take a crucial first step to show it is serious about its recent commitments to refugee children.”