Please help us help child refugees survive the winter

A woman with her baby daughter after being rescued from a wooden boat near Pozzallo, Italy.
A woman with her baby daughter after being rescued from a wooden boat near Pozzallo, Italy. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The plight of child refugees is at the heart of this year’s Guardian and Observer charity appeal. We supported refugees last year and we are proud to return to this theme again. It remains the great humanitarian crisis of our times.

The political mood has hardened around immigration, and in a volatile world the tragedy of forced migration can seem less visible. Yet the reality is inescapable: in Europe, thousands of children are stuck in squalid camps or sleeping rough, caught up in political turmoil beyond their control and exposed to multiple dangers.

This year, record numbers of children have drowned in the Mediterranean; others have been placed in detention for travelling without documents. Official figures indicate more than 90,000 children have travelled alone, fleeing war and destitution across Europe. Charities believe the real figure is higher, because so many have slipped beneath the radar.

The Guardian and Observer have consistently reported the dire conditions faced by many children: the rat-infested camps, the unheated squats and the muddy ditches that they are forced to call home. We’ve published interviews with children of primary school age, travelling without parents, worried about how to feed themselves and how to get to safety.

Children play in a camp on the island on Chios in September
Children play in a camp on the island on Chios in September. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

Child refugees running from war and violent unrest in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan have told us Europe can seem an unwelcoming place. Many are shocked to find themselves living in camps that may be safe from bombs, but where conditions are far worse than what they were used to at home. Most despair at being stuck in limbo, unable to continue their education, wasting their lives. They risk disease, trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse. Let’s be clear: without help, some will not survive the winter.

The UK government’s response to has been muted. It has resisted efforts to allow child refugees to be reunited with families in the UK, and delayed attempts to give shelter to the most vulnerable children travelling alone. The major aid agencies are clear that the UK has not accepted its fair share. The issue provokes both weariness and hostility from many in Britain; some find it convenient to conflate asylum seekers with economic migrants, and adopt a less than welcoming approach. Child refugees have been criticised for not looking sufficiently young.

Our view has not changed from last year. The political solutions to the refugee crisis may be complex, but that does not mean we should abandon our humanity. We should not close our hearts, retreat behind walls, real or imagined, or ignore the pressing moral imperative to provide assistance and sanctuary for some of the world’s most desperate people.

Guardian and Observer readers last year demonstrated extraordinary solidarity with refugees. Through our 2015 appeal you showed in your thousands that a more compassionate voice exists amid the rancour. You signalled a wish for a more tolerant, empathetic, kinder society. Above all, you showed amazing generosity: last year’s appeal raised an astonishing £2.6m for refugee charities.

A Syrian family finds shelter in a refugee camp on the border with Turkey
A Syrian family finds shelter in a refugee camp on the border with Turkey. Photograph: Dona B /Pacific/ Barcroft Images

This year we are asking readers to donate to three fantastic charities that offer practical and effective help and support to child refugees, whether they are travelling alone or with families, or have already arrived in the UK. All combine a passionate entrepreneurialism with a dynamic commitment to social justice.

Help Refugees brings a refreshing vitality and energy to the provision of emergency humanitarian aid. Set up just 16 months ago by a group of friends wondering what they could do to help refugees, it has grown to become one of Europe’s largest distributors of food, clothes, shelter and medicine to refugees, supporting over 50 projects across the continent.

Safe Passage is another new project, created by the Citizens UK charity last year to help provide legal support to hundreds of unaccompanied refugee children, so that they can apply for asylum in the UK – many of them to be reunited with family members resident here – rather than risking their lives smuggling themselves in on lorries.

Once refugee children are in the UK, adapting to their new surroundings can be a lonely and demoralising experience. A series of projects run by The Children’s Society provide a range of services from legal advice to help youngsters access education and housing, to language lessons, social activities and mentoring. The aim is to help youngsters overcome the trauma of migration, and to support them to rebuild their lives.

Guardian and Observer journalists will over the next few weeks highlight the vital work of our three charities through words, pictures, and film, both online and in our newspapers. We have been inspired by them and their work, and we hope you will be too. Help us once again to show solidarity with refugees. Please give generously.

Support the three chosen charities by donating here

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