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16 September 2016updated 09 Sep 2021 8:59am

Alone and terrified in Syria: What red tape is doing to my constituent’s little boy

The Government expects the nine-year-old to cross borders to apply for reunion. 

By Owen Thompson MP

Nine-year-old Mohammed is one of thousands of child refugees alone in Syria. His parents fled the country, believing he was dead and have resettled in my constituency of Midlothian. In March, Mohammed was identified as being alive, but has since been kidnapped, badly beaten and left for dead before being found again. He now lives in fear of daily attacks, sexual violence and assault. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet with me to urgently review the steps the Government could take to reunite Mohammed with his devastated family and provide him with the support required to overcome his ordeal?

On Wednesday 14 September, during Prime Ministers Questions, I asked Rt Hon Theresa May MP whether she would support a constituent and his family to be reunited with his son, who is living alone, in fear, in Syria. Mohammed, who was beaten and left for dead, does not have any permanent or stable care, and at times basics such as food and shelter. He is nine years old.

For the last five years, the conflict in Syria has ravaged its civilian populace. As of February 2016, 13.5m refugees have been identified by the UN as having fled the country due to the conflict. Of these refugees, 4.8m have settled outside of Syria itself, and half of them are children such as Mohammed.

Within Scotland, as of May 2016, local authorities accepted 610 refugees to be resettled in areas such as the Isle of Bute, Renfrewshire and my own constituency of Midlothian. In contrast, recent figures released by the Home Office have shown that London boroughs have only accepted 33, with others being resettled in areas such as Yorkshire and the West Midlands. The figures in the North West are even lower, with no councils accepting refugees, including the ten councils in the Greater Manchester area.

The photo of Alan Kurdi, the boy who drowned in September 2015 trying to reach safety from Syria, caused international outrage. One boy and his family’s tragic story led to a 15-fold increase in donations to the Migrant Offshore Aid Station charity within 24 hours. It led to the then-Prime Minister David Cameron declaring himself “deeply moved” and announcing that 20,000 Syrian refugees would be resettled in the UK. But people fleeing that war-torn country are still dying in the thousands in the Mediterranean. Young boys like Alan and Mohammed experience the true impact of our hesitation to offer real humanitarian aid. 

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The UK Government, and indeed most of the world, needs to do more to offer real change for families and especially lone children escaping terror. We know about the horrific ordeals children like Mohammed and Alan have faced, and we know how to help. We know that nine-year old boys who have been beaten and abandoned are not “the terror threat”. But still, the Karou family in my constituency fear for their son’s life, and the UK Government have been reluctant to help.

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Current Government policy states that for nine-year-old Mohammed to even make an application to be considered for reunification, he must get to a designated assessment centre in one of the neighbouring countries, though some of those countries have now closed their border to Syrians. This makes any journey even more challenging, and ultimately a gamble for a young life.  It is beyond me how any nine-year-old could or should be expected to make such a journey, alone.  

May’s response to my question was to contact the Home Secretary Amber Rudd to ensure the Home Office are doing everything they can to save Mohammed’s life. But these are words, not actions. I welcome both May and Rudd’s assistance, but we need tangible help that will get this boy, and others, back where he belongs – to a warm bed, a safe home, and his family. 

Owen Thompson is the SNP MP for Midlothian.