Saturday, 20 Apr 2024

Young refugees 'deserve more' after 'inhumane' government paints over murals

Rima Amin, 32, a policy worker in London, used to only need one word to sum up how she sees the Conservative government’s immigration policy.

These days, however, she needs two.

‘Increasingly inhumane,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.

One example comes straight to mind for Rima. Last month, reports emerged that immigration minister Robert Jenrick ordered cartoon murals at a children’s asylum centre to be painted over in April.

The holding room murals, which included Disney favourites like Mickey Mouse and Baloo from The Jungle Book, were reportedly ‘too welcoming’ for the children as young as nine at the Kent intake unit (KIU).

A report published by the prison’s watchdog found ‘no examples of notable positive practice’ at the unit which opened last November to house unaccompanied children who arrive in Britain on small boats.

Despite the Conservative government’s steady hardening of migration policy over the years, Rima says she was shocked by Jenrick’s order.


‘I couldn’t believe that a conscious decision was made to take away something designed to help children who are fleeing the most horrendous of circumstances,’ Rima, who has advised Change.org campaigns in the past, says.

‘It just seemed so cruel.’

Rima knew she had to do something. She and other campaigners from Cartoons Not Cruelty started a petition, calling on the Home Office to restore the artwork.

‘Cartoon murals may seem trivial,’ the Change.org petition reads, ‘but, if it can draws just a smile, a moment of comfort or normalcy to a child facing distressing circumstances, then it is worth it.’

And they have some ideas. On its Instagram, campaigners have asked followers to submit drawings ‘that reflect the kind of welcome’ child asylum seekers ‘deserve’.

Eight-year-old Theo doodled one idea showing Mickey and Mini Mouse with the England flag and a simple message: ‘Welcome to England.’

Sally drew a boat docking at a port, seemingly showing a bear reunited with his family on dry land. While 80-year-old Elizabeth drew a scenic view of the coral reef.

‘The removal of children’s cartoons illustrates this and the public is pushing back and urging leaders to take a more compassionate approach,’ Rima says.



‘Since starting the campaign I’ve learnt that there are also welfare issues for children in these centres – for example, care plans are not tailored to individual risks and there was no enhanced care planning for very young children or those who had experienced more severe trauma.’

‘The powerful response from the public offers hope in the face of an act that took hope away,’ she says of the petition dotted by more than 119,000 people.

‘I hope our leaders listen.’

Among the signatories are Lucy Chick, who has lived in Kent for some 25 years.

‘I cannot think of anyone I have met who would want to make frightened, lonely, exhausted children feel unwelcome,’ she says.

Alice Dunham, who works at Arts Education Exchange, a creative learning charity in Margate, a coastal town in the county, had her reasons too.

‘I’m signing for all the young accompanied asylum-seeking children I have worked with who deserve kindness, compassion and to be treated like the children they are,’ she says.

The government’s stance on immigration has become increasingly divisive. Last year, ministers announced plans to fly some asylum seekers arriving by small boat to Rwanda.

Some asylum seekers who have risked their lives to cross the English Channel may also find themselves housed on the Bibby Stockholm instead, a 222-barge docked in Portland, Dorset.

The Illegal Immigration Bill, meanwhile, allows for the swift detention and deportation of anyone arriving in Britain by illegal routes.

A Home Office spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: ‘We do all we can to ensure children are safe, secure and supported as we urgently seek placements with a local authority.

‘All children receive a welfare interview on their arrival at accommodation, which includes questions designed to identify potential indicators of trafficking or safeguarding issues.

‘Our priority is to stop the boats and disrupt the people smugglers. The government has gone further by introducing legislation which will ensure that those people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and promptly removed to their country of origin or a safe third country.’

For Rima, refugee charity volunteers and childcare professionals, a mural at a detention centre isn’t a big ask.

‘These children deserve more,’ Rima says, ‘and we can do better than this.’

Robert Jenrick has been approached for comment.

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