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How to talk with kids about refugees

20 June 2017, Impact of Our Work

There are now more refugees and displaced people on the planet than have ever been recorded in history.

Over half of them are children. While the reality of the refugee crisis can be brutal, confronting and desperately sad, it’s something – as adults – we should be prepared to talk about with children. 

One thing every parent hopes for is that they can share open and honest discussions with their kids. And it goes both ways. If we expect it from them, they should be able to expect the same from us. 

But sometimes the reality of the world can seem so harsh, it’s not something we particularly want to burden children with. Surely, they have enough on their plates already! But kids are increasingly exposed to social media, news and information, and one thing is certain; they often know more than we think they do. So, when it comes to issues that matter – issues that affect the hopes and dreams of children just like our own, we need to be able to talk about it. 

Here are a few suggestions on how to get the conversation started. 

What could kids teach me about refugees? 

As part of the curriculum in many Australian schools, students are taught about the experiences of refugees, the causes of displacement and what it means to be a refugee or person seeking asylum. This might be a good place to start the conversation. Ask your child what they know about the situation. Maybe they have friends in their school, or in their class, who were forced to leave their country. Can they tell you what it means to be seeking asylum, or why a family might decide to leave their home and choose Australia to start their new life? 

This short film could help your kids – and you – imagine what it must be like to have to flee from the home you love. It can be fascinating to hear a young person’s perspective. As you know, kids are incredibly perceptive; you might even learn something! 

How much is too much? 

As a parent, only you can decide how much your child needs to know. Obviously, there are concepts a kinder-aged kid simply won’t be able to grasp. Some of the trauma experienced by children fleeing conflict, their dangerous journeys or being separated from their families may be too much for a young child to try to comprehend. In which case, it might help to put things into a context that will make sense to them. 

You could try asking your five-year-old how they would feel if they had to move from their home tomorrow – and explain that while sometimes we don’t want to go to school every day, some kids don’t get the chance to go to school at all. Of course, if these are topics your child isn’t yet ready for, there’s no hurry, they have plenty of years ahead. 

This video is a good one to share and gives an amazing 360-degree perspective of what life is like in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, one of the biggest in the world. 

The sheer scale 

While it’s important to have some of the facts and figures up your sleeve , numbers alone can be difficult for young minds (and old!) to fathom. It might help kids get a better understanding of the sheer number of refugees and displaced people on the planet by framing the numbers relative to something they can visualise. For example: 
  • Imagine all the students in your school (let’s say there’s 1,000) gathered in a field. Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya is currently holding more than 180,000 people. All of the kids in your school – 180 times over! 
  • If all refugees in the world linked hands, they could stretch around the entire coast of Australia – twice! 
  • Right now, there are more than 65 million displaced people globally. If they all lived in one place, it would be the 21st largest country in the world – nearly three times the population of Australia. 

Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan is currently home to almost 80,000 Syrian refugees.
Photographer: Guilhem Alandry/Save the Children 


Where on earth is that? 

Australia’s distance from most of the rest of the world can sometimes make it feel like we live in our own (rather large) bubble. It can also make it tough to imagine what people are experiencing so far away. Using a map or a globe to talk about what’s happening and where, can help provide a little clarity. You could highlight a few significant regions that are being talked about in the news – and some of the places that aren’t getting the same sort of exposure. 

Here’s a few to begin with: 

Syria – Nearly 5 million Syrians have been forced to seek safety in neighbouring countries, and more than six million are displaced within Syria; half of those affected are children. 

Uganda - Uganda currently ranks among the top three refugee hosting nations in the world and is now home to more refugees than any other country in Africa. For context, this is more refugees in a single country than all of Europe took in during 2015. 

Colombia – There are currently 3.5 million internally displaced people within Colombia, while another 500,000–750,000 are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. 

Democratic Republic of Congo – Nearly 3 million Congolese are estimated to have fled their homes, living as internally displaced people (IDPs) within their own country. 

Australia – In the 10 years to 31 December 2015, Australia has resettled around 130,000 refugees. We are ranked 26th in the world for overall intake, 31st per capita and 46th relative to national GDP. 

What difference can I make? 

Keeping kids informed and aware is an excellent place to start. Having open dialogue, discussing the issues, asking and answering questions will all help shed light on the different journeys being experienced by refugees and people seeking asylum. 

It’s also important to talk about the different reasons people are forced to flee. The fact that sometimes, everyday life becomes so frightening or dangerous – due to war or lack of food or violence – that families have no choice but to run and to build new lives elsewhere. 

You may find an opportunity to meet people with refugee backgrounds. And to acknowledge the wonderful contribution they have made since settling in a new community. This can only help build awareness and admiration – and a greater understanding of the many different paths people follow. 

There are plenty of ways to take action and to urge our government to do more. Keep an eye out for marches in your city, petitions and days of action – the more noise we make, the more they are likely to listen. 

How you can help

Be a frontline hero for Children in Crisis. 

Header Image – A teacher instructs children in a classroom at Hamam al-Alil Camp for displaced people in Iraq. Photographer: Cengiz Yar/Save the Children 

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