ThickSkin’s Theatre Blog, 1 December 2022
How Not To Drown tells the real-life story of Dritan Kastrati. In 2002, at the age of 11, Dritan fled the aftermath of war in Kosova to find a new life in Europe. He travelled alone without a parent or any family members (as an unaccompanied minor) on a small boat across the Adriatic Sea and found his way to London in search of his older brother Alfred. When Dritan was finally reunited with his brother, social services placed him into care. This began a second journey of survival, as he fought to keep his identity, moving from place to place, from one foster home to the next.
In the latest discussions about asylum seekers arriving in small boats, we only occasionally hear about unaccompanied minors. We rarely hear about what happens to children when they are received in the UK. We hear even less about asylum seeking children in the British care system, and practically nothing about their individual stories and experiences. How Not To Drown has been an opportunity to share just one of those stories.
The statistics vary, but the Refugee Council advises that “In 2020, worldwide, 21,000 children applied for asylum having arrived in the country of refuge alone, with no parent or guardian, according to the most recent global figures published by UNHCR” and “In the year ending June 2022, the UK received 4,896 applications for asylum from unaccompanied children.” These are worryingly high statistics and highlights the need for a dedicated asylum process designed to safeguard children on arrival.
The migrant debate is complex. News headlines can be divisive, but it involves real people and lives at risk. Humanity and context should be central to the debate. The News Agents Podcast on immigration and the situation around Albanian migrants looked at what has been going wrong politically, speaking with insight from a key former civil servant in the Home Office, Sir David Normington.
Journalist and professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics, Lea Ypi, wrote an important piece for The Guardian, stating “We Albanians are just the latest scapegoats for Britain’s failing ideological project,” highlighting how media coverage has promopted unfair discrimination against all Albanians in the UK. We want to show support for Albanians who live, work and contribute in the UK. Those like Dritan and Lea, but others too – Dua Lipa, Rita Ora and Xherdan Shaqiri. The wider Albanian community, many of whom have lived here for several decades, are being discriminated against unfairly.
Woman’s Hour correspondent, Emma Barnett, spoke to Lea Ypi who has written a prize-winning memoir, Free: Coming of Age at the End of History. Much like Dritan, Lea grew up in Albania and “for the first eleven years of her life, it was one of the most isolated countries in the world – Europe’s last Stalinist outpost. Then, in December 1990, the regime collapsed.”
Professor Tanja Bueltmann’s twitter thread highlighted why presenting opinions as facts and using language reminiscent of war is provocative and dangerous, especially given recent terrorist attacks on migrant centres. We also found this podcast from Our Own Correspondent really insightful, with Sara Monetta speaking to people in the suburbs of Tirana about why many of the Albania’s young people are choosing to leave.
The Scotsman covered Suella Braverman’s recent deal with France to reduce small boat crossings to the UK. SNP’s immigration spokesperson Anne McLauglin said: “The UK Government must instead focus on creating more safe and legal routes, which we know work, and address the backlog of asylum decisions.” Some days later, the BBC covered the Home Affairs Select Committee meeting where Tim Loughton highlighted that the lack of safe & legal routes to the UK is a major factor in why asylum seekers are crossing in dangerous small boats.
Most worryingly, in the last few days The Guardian has reported that “The Home Office is routinely changing the dates of birth of unaccompanied child asylum seekers to classify them as adults.” While this has been contested by the Home Office, several other articles have highlighted major safeguarding concerns for child asylum seekers arriving in the UK. The charity Love 146 explains that “for nearly two years we have been warning that the Home Office’s use of hotels to place separated children is unlawful.”
All children deserve safety, dignity and security in the UK. We hope that by sharing Dritan’s story on stage, we can help to raise awareness of the challenges arising for young unaccompanied asylum seekers, and give a voice to the thousands of children whose stories remain unheard.
If you would like to learn more and show support for charities working to protect young migrants, follow the links below:
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